CHITTUR FOLKS

THANKS GIVING FESTIVAL

Dr.A. Sreekumar Menon

santhasree@yahoo.com

Thanks Giving festival which falls on 22nd of this month is celebrated in U.S   as national event and national holiday. There are different interpretations regarding its historical origin .It was started at the first settlement of Europeans in North America. . Its origin is traced as the first celebration held in 1621 at Plymouth Plantation when the Plymouth settlers held a grand  harvest feast celebrating  bumper harvest season . This practice was continued in later years . It was a season of health and strength. It was a time when all good things were in plenty. They were well equipped to face the harsh winter . It was also mentioned that that there was harvest celebration in 1863 when there was rain and drought ended .Historically people have always celebrated a day as a sign of thanks   for whatever they received or  nature’s kindness . In 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed ‘National Day of Thanks giving and Praise to our beneficent father who dwelth in Heaven’. The day  is also considered as a day to reciprocate hospitality which First European settlers in U.S received from Native Americans who  hosted a native dinner with turkey , wild potato etc .These days , it is celebrated as a special time for families and friends for a special  traditional feast including turkey, potato, pumpkin etc. Whatever may be its historical origin , it  conveys salient messages in the form of human values which are as  relevant today as it was in historic times .These  messages have deep meanings and we should think deeply to understand them . I am trying to bring out some of them in this short article.

It is an occasion to take time off from hectic mundane life and spent time on finer things in life or to build, renew and maintain human relations, so that the human relationships stay with us in spite of the onslaught of modern Industrial/ material civilization .Material comforts without human relationships are barren. Human Relationships are like oases in deserts .With machine culture, impersonality and cut throat competition raise their ugly heads.

Life is possible only with nature’s grace or when we allow the law of nature to operate .Nature by which we mean food crops and other vegetations, timely seasons and freedom from natural hazards which make human life worth living. There is symbiotic relationship between man and nature or the so called eco-system.  Man invites disaster when he disturbs the ecological balance by his greed and  promoting economic development without human face . One message that comes out of this celebration is that we should live in harmony with nature. Apart from nature, our life depends upon cooperation of so many other people and we should not ignore this inter- dependency. On the contrary we should recognize this and live supportive of each other.  We cannot live all for ourselves without concern for common good .The nations are so inter-dependent today that no one can ignore another nation however weak it is . It can do it only at its peril. What our ancient Indian philosophical wisdom has spoken about ‘ Vasudeva kudumbakam’ meaning the whole world is large a large family aptly describes the  present day world . It means we as individuals and nations should behave with each other as we would behave with members of our own well knight family .We should not have the feeling that we are the ‘doer’ and show pride or arrogance, on the other hand we should feel that we are only instruments in the hands of ‘supreme power’.  In other words, we should be humble. Humility and gratefulness are like two sides of a coin, the possession of which elevate  our personality. Another side of the same values is hospitality. It was mentioned earlier that Thanks Giving day is celebrated also to high light the value of hospitality, which the native Americans extended to New European settlers .In Hinduism there is a great saying ‘Athidhi devo bhava ‘ meaning  guests are God . The lesson we have to learn for our fulfilling lives is that we should be hospitable .The liberty statue is symbolic of the value of hospitality. In the right way American nation is a friendly nation where people from all cultures and ethnic groups work and live in unison .Mahatma Gandhi said ‘ keep all the windows open, let winds from all sides blow’ Synthesis of individual cultures should make world culture  most creative and vibrant .

Deepavali

DEEPAVALI - ITS SIGNIFICANCE

By Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon

Deepavali  also called Deewali in in its contracted or abridged  version is an important Hindu festival celebrated all over India and many overseas countries where there areexpatriate  and naturalized Indians. Other countries where it is celebrated are Newzeland. Australia, Fiji islands ,Malaysia, Singapore ,Thailand ,Srilanka, Nepal ,Myanmar, Indonesia, Japan, Mauritius, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Trinidad, Tobago, U.K and U.S.A.  It is a major Hindu festival honoring Goddess Lakashmi or the Goddess of wealth and prosperity . The word Deepavali came from two Sankrit words- Deepanaam Avali . Deepa means Lamp, Avali means row. So rows of light. The distinguishing characteristic of Deepavali celebration is illumination of the dark moonlessnight with arrays of  lamps lit. Although one finds regional variations in the celebrations, there are commonly followedrituals. Deepavali follows very closely Dusshera celebrations. It is celebratedon Amavasya night, 15th dark fortnight of Hindu lunar month Ashwin (Oct –Nov). It is celebrated over 5 days commencing from Aswayuja Bahula Chathurdasi and culminates on Kartika Sudh vijaya.

There are several interpretations of the meaning of celebration of Deepavali. Lighting of lamps is indicative of triumph of good or virtues over evil or vice and, dispelling the darkness of ignorance to the awakening of knowledge. We are reminded of the value of eschewing  vices  and practicing virtues or human qualities inour lives  and leading our lives  not influenced by superstition, but guided by logical and scientific reasoning .Often we are not aware of ourselves or how we behave  or about our character ,attitudes and temperamental dispositions . First of all we should introspect or look within ourselves and try to understand our behavior. We should know what are the virtues and what are the vices , If we find we possess certain vices, we should try to remove them with determination . Similarly, if we lack any virtues, we should try to cultivate and practice them. Both are part of learning which happens due to effort on the part of the person. So festivals provide opportunity for self- judgment and correction. We celebrate a festival in the true sense, only if we do this .  Often we don’t think of the values which thefestivals imply, we just take it  as a occasion for fun and merry making and indulging in meaningless rituals.

Deepavali time is the end of harvest season in most parts of India and it is an occasion to express our gratitude to mothernature for the bumper crops and material plenty. The main deity worshipped during Deepavali is Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. Deepavali celebraton has deeper inner or spiritual significance. It is popularly known as festival of lights. The deeper philosophical meaning is ‘awareness of inner light ‘  Central to Hindu philosophy , there is an assertion that there is something  beyond the physical body ,  mind and intellect , about which we are generally  not aware of , which is pure, infinite and eternal . It is called ‘Atman or Self ‘ Just as we celebrate  the birth of our physical body , Deepavali is the celebration of ‘inner light’, only which is real and permanent .When we are aware of that light or true or intrinsic nature of ourselves , the darkness of ignorance or Avidya ,out of which crops up egoism or self-centeredness, self-aggrandizement, greed and so on disappears and knowledge or vidya  dawns upon us, with the result we understand  our true nature which is unchanging ,infinite , transcendental, imperishable and supreme consciousness and its relation  or  unity with the outside world .  With the realization of Atman  or individual self with Brahman or Universal self-removes the veil of our perception of life as struggle for existence and survival of the fittest , and make us realize that life is a cooperative endeavor, one of love , compassion and  mutual support that brings enduring joy and happiness .

There are many legends relating to Deepavali celebrations or various reasons have been pointed out for the celebration .One legend pertains to Lord Sri Rama’s home coming to Ayodhya after defeating the Demon King Ravana in Lanka. The festival is believed tomark the victorious return of Rama to his kingdom with his wife Sita Devi and great devotee  Hanuman. It appears it took 20 days for Rama to return to Ayodhya ,after defeating Ravana. The people of Ayodya being jubilanton the return of Lord Rama lit up their homes as sign of happiness and toaccord royal welcome to their beloved king . From that time onwards, celebration followed every year .This episode whether it is a historical factor not is immaterial. It demonstrates the victory of good over evil. Onlyrighteous conduct will prevail. It bacons us to develop good character orfollow justice in all walks of life.

 It is to be noted that  Lord Rama tried  his best to avoid battle against Ravana ,which he knew would cause death and destruction of  innocent people He send Hanuman as hisemissary to Ravana for counsel . Ravana overconscious of his prowess and  being wicked paid no heed to Hanuman’s request to free SitaDevi and come to apeaceful settlement  . Not only thatRavana refused his offer for peaceful negotiation , but he also  insulted Hanuman  by setting fire  to his tail . Hanuman , being divine was not affected by fire . He  burnt parts of Lanka  by flying over the places . Here we find alesson of tolerance on the part of Rama . what it conveys is that  we shouldnot get easily provoked even when the situation is provoking and should havetolerance or self –restraint . Even aggression should be meted out by  kindness and peaceful approach rather than bycounter aggression  . When  aggression is meted out by  counter aggression , it leads to furtheraggression .In   aggression , there is nowinner or loser , all are losers , though it may seem that one party has won over the other .  Gandhiji, the greatest man ever lived on earth,  met with aggression with non-violence or whatis called ‘Sathyagraha’ or passive resistance.  It was shown that  his weapon of Sathyagraha was much strongerthan the mighty British army . Britishers   foundit impossible to stay back   in the faceof non-cooperation from the people of the entire nation, so to say .  In fact it is this human value of toleranceand accommodation  that is embedded inour traditional culture and its influence on people  that  we are able to stay in harmony and maintainsense of unity ,in spite of such diverse   regional variations such as in languages , customs , dress , food habitsetc. we have been able to see  thediversity in positive manner and as enriching our culture  - the socalled ‘unity in  diversity ‘ as expounded  by our seers of yore . We have such epicsaying ‘sathya meva jayathe ‘, truth only triumphs.,

‘Kshema seelam sakthanaam bhushanum‘, Patience, forbearance and tolerance are ornaments for the mighty and so on.In the above epics, Ravana is embodiment of vices and Lord Rama is thepersonification of virtues. It was the virtues which Rama possed that led himto victory in the battle .It was the misdeeds of Ravana which lead him todefeat and destruction. We can consider that Sage Valmiki wrote the story todemonstrate the importance of virtues in human life. So while celebrating Deepavali,we should be aware of the merit of virtues and try to cultivate them in ourlives . That is the true spirit or way of celebrating Deepavali.Only if we doit , we get long term benefit from the celebration . Crackers were burst andsparklers were lit by people of Ayodhya as symbol of joy  to celebratevictory . This shows that Rama being  a righteous king worthy ofbeing called Rajashri   is dear to peopleof Ayodya, where he ruled. Those who are rulers should emulate him in the waysthey conduct themselves in the field of politics and public affairs.

Crackers and sparklers made of toxic substanceswere probably not available in ancient times. In modern times, with newchemicals known to man, crackers are made using harmful chemicals. The fumesthey release while burning are too hazardous to human health .Similarly, thehigh intensity noise which crackers produce leads to permanent impairment of hearingAlthough Govt imposes certain restrictions in regard to the use of crackers,those are inadequate to ward off the harmful effects . In countries like Dubai, bursting of crackers and lighting of sparklers are  totally prohibited . So Indians therecelebrate Deepavali silently and peacefully. So our intellect demands that suchthings which cause atmospheric pollution should not be used. We find people andgroups vie with each other in spending money on crackers, decorations andfeasts  as mark of their affluence ,which is a misplaced act. The money we intend to spend on crackers shouldbe  diverted to support some charitablecause such as feeding the hungry, monetary help to the sick, sponsoring thestudents for their studies  and so on.Busting crackers  is not an essentialpart of Deepavali celebration. It has only peripheral importance . There isanother way of looking at the practice of lighting crackers. When they burst,the sound is aversive to our ears. This is in contrast to the sound of music,which is mellifluous.

During Deepavali day, it is believed thatGoddess Lakhmi descends on earth and loiters so as to visit houses andbless  people .so she should be enchantedby melodious sound of bhajans and  music ,instead of  by sound from crackers .Musical sound transmits positive energy and the harsh sound from crackers ofhigh decibels which are used today which is traumatic, transmits negative energy. Negative energy manifests as propensity for disagreement, aggression, violenceand destruction. Positive energy leads to tranquility, peace, love, feelings ofoneness, cooperation and so on. Again serenity or sacredness or piety of theoccasion should also be maintained. Cheap entertainments should not be planned.

Another legend  linked to Deepavali is the story of Mahavishuin the form of Vamana and Demon king Bali narrated in Vishnupurana .There was an asura king  by name Bali ruled over nether world, a worldsupposed to exist below earth  called‘pathala’ in Sanskrit . He gained Prowess by doing penance He misused his might.He started harassing everyone including celestial beings. He felt that no onecan challenge him in his might. Lord Visnu wanted to refine him and also removehim from his prowl from earth and heaven. He plotted a plan taking advantage ofhis self-aggrandizement. He assumed the form of a poor dwarf Brahmin. Heapproached Bali for gift. Bali seeing the punitive figure had condescendingattitude towards him. He ordered him to ask for anything he wanted. Vamanaasked for land which he could measure with his foot thrice. Bali felt becauseof his power consciousness that it is silly demand. It happens when one is inthe veil of his inflated estimation of himself, he loses intellectual andemotional balance and ability for right action . He agreed to Vamana’s demand. Hehad underestimated the power of Vamana who was God himself. Vamana grew in sizeto such an extent that he could cover the entire earth with one foot. Hecovered the entire sky with second foot. The he asked where he would place histhird foot. Bali, being man of words, finding no other place left, bowed downand asked him to place his foot on his forehead. He could have broken his promise.But being a man committed to his words, he kept his promise. When Vamana placedhis foot on his forehead, he went down to the world below earth. At that time,Lord Vishnu dissolved his ego, made him enlightened, handed over to him thelamp of knowledge and, allowed him to return to earth to dispel the darkness andignorance of humanity and spread radiance of eternal love. What is the moral ofthis legend? We should not underestimate any one. We should not have condescending attitude towards anyone .We should not belittle anyone .we should give everything and everyone due importance .Even the dry leaves that fall from trees when wind blows have a purpose to serve.

There is a story in Ramayana that even the squirrel, smallest of the creatures, assisted in building Ramasethu.It rolled onthe  ground making movement of sand . Similarlythere is another interesting episode given in Ramayana . After returning fromLanka, while preparations for coronation were going on, duties were assigned toall the people except Hanuman .Hanuman was told that he had toiled enough andthat he deserved rest , relaxation and recuperation . But Hanuman was not aperson who would like to while away his time or would like to keep idle. So hegrew sad over this. He requested Lord Rama to assign him with some work, howeverminor it may be. No work was left out. Ultimately, Hanuman was told to closeRama’s mouth, whenever he yawns. Hanuman agreed to it. Apparently it is atask  that does not call for much effort.But it was not so. Hanuman had to be vigilant all the time to see whether Ramayawned to be ready to close his mouth. The moral is that even the task we thinkminor need not be minor, can be a major one. So there are no significant andinsignificant contributions. All big and small. have to play their roles in thescheme of things. .so there should not be status differentiation based on thetype of work people do. The work done by a sweeper is as important as that doneby officer. If  he does a shoddy work ,the officers will not be able to work properly, because  the place is dirty .So everyone, big or small is a link in the chain and the strengthof the chain depends upon the strength of the weakest link .

The message conveyed by the aboveepisode is that we should pay mutual respect and live in harmony with inourselves and with people around us without making any  social stratification , which only dividespeople and make them to work cross purposes .

There is another legend behind Deepavali Celebration as follows: There was a small boy named Nachiketha,who believed that Yamaraja, the God who takes away life  is  asfrightening as  the pitch dark  moonless night. But When he met Yama Raja  he was pleasantly surprised to see him ascalm and composed personality , not evoking any fear .In the discourse that followed between them, Yema Rajaexplained to lad Nachiketha on the Deepavali day  that man has to passthrough  the darkness of death to seelight of  higher knowledge ,to  escape oneself from the bondage of mortalframe and attain union  with imperishableBrahman .He added that worldly life is  a training ground  for attaining that state . The moral is that darknesscould represent trials and tribulations in one’s life  and the sensuous cravings, and movementtowards light is facing the ups and downs in life with equanimity and  imposing a ceiling on cravings andtemptations . Thus this off- repeated Hindu Philosophical truth was beautifullyand convincingly narrated during Deepavali Day. This is the symbolic meaning ofdispelling darkness of non-moon night with lighting of innumerable lamps bypeople. The fact that people can turn dark night into bright one implies thatthe ability for self-correction and transformation is very much within us andit can be achieved by using right knowledge, which again is personified bylight or illumination.

Another significance of Deepavali dayis that it is on this day Demon Narakaasura who misused his powers obtained byhard penance and harassed all in heaven and earth, particularly women  was killed by Sathyabhama , Consort of LordKrishna  , empowered by Lord Krishna .After the death of Narakasura, his mother Bhudevi declared to celebrate the occasion with joy and rejoice.Since then people followed that tradition of celebrating Deepavali day withardent zeal and enthusiasm .This shows that those whose character is viciousand questionable and detrimental to human welfare will get ultimately destroyed. Human virtues win and they are the basis of life. It is to be noted thatNarakasura’s mother  condemned  her son’s behavior  and she was happy  that her son was killed .Normally mother who  has the strongest bond towards  her son will wish only for good to happen to her son .and never entertains  any harm  to him . This shows firstly   that her son’s conduct had been sotreacherous that she, inspite of her motherly affection could not tolerate  and secondly  the sense of morality and ethics  is much more stronger than  the strongest attachment called ‘motherlylove’ towards her children .Unruly conduct ( Adharma) can never be condoned for the safety and security ofthe society and it’s people . In Bhagavad Geeta, the sacred Hindu text , LordKrishna  proclaims that God  incarnates in human form over ages wheneverthe moral integrity of the people is at low ebb to reestablish  the orderliness of the society and save thepeople  from destruction . Lord Krishnatook ten forms or Avatars called (Dashaavatar) to save humanity from different catastrophes.Anothernote worthy point is that we should use our skills and abilities forconstructive purposes and not for destructive purposes. For instance thescientific ingenuity of modern times should be put to promotion of human welfareand world peace and not  fordestructivepurposes such as building  arms orinciting communal tension  or invokingviolent tendencies or plundering the natural resources and degrading theecosystem .

There is another legend pertaining toGoddess Lakshmi who blesses people with material prosperity, opulence andrichness or material abundance. It is believed that Astalaksmi , Goddess Lakshmi in different  forms  comes down to earth on the Amavasya or thirdday of Deepavali  , move around the place, getting ready to visit houses of her devotees to shower  prosperity on those who toil earnestly as fruits of their labor . The Ashta Lakshmi’s or 8 forms , Goddess Lakshmiassumes are 1.Dhanalakashmi ,2 DhaanyaLakshmi, 3.DhiryaLakshmi ,4.SouryaLakshmi ,5VidyaLakshmi ,6.KeerthiLakshmi ,7 Vijaya Lakshmi  and RajaLakahmi.

It is wealth well-earned or earned through honest means that is represented by Goddess Lakshmi. In Koutilya’sArthasastra, the method of acquiring wealth through honest means is dealt with. Such prosperity leads to permanent joy and happiness. On the other hand, Goddess Lakshmi  does not represent ill-gottenwealth or wealth acquired through objectionable means such as committing frauds,earning excessive profit , exploitation of others ,  that is not sharing gains with others who  contributed to the generation of wealth ,cheating ,hoarding and creating artificial scarcity  etc . Money acquired by such means is calledas ‘tainted money or commonly called as black money.  Genuine wealth is sacred, in the sense it hasthe character of divinity. It is a positive force or energy where as taintedmoney is a negative force or energy. We find tainted money is used for destructivepurposes. Tainted money is acquired by greed which is a human vice, which isinsatiable and so tempting that one is prepared to do anything unmindful of theconsequences. Genuine wealth leads to the development and welfare of thesociety. The question is not how much one earns in his life time, but how heearns and how he spends. Those who spend extravagantly, though they can afford,do not consider wealth as sacred or having divine potential. In such cases,money may not bring real joy, happiness and peace of mind. On the other hand,persons who lead a moderate life or life of austerity, in spite of his highearnings and use the savings for humanitarian purposes, will enjoy theblessings of Goddess Lakshmi   and theywill  lead   a life of longevity , sound health andlasting contentment, peace of mind and joy .Thus it is made very clear thatwealth is sacred and hence it should be acquired by honest means  and utilized   not for just self-gratification, but  for philanthropy or giving back to society.Giving back to society is not charity, as we understand the term, but it isfulfilling one’s duty . It is only because of social support  that a person is able to   become rich . It is not only a question ofhow much a person earns, but also how well he spends it . Money should not bespent extravagantly for over consumption and celebrations  Opulence can follow all unhealthy habits ,unless  we check the tendency consciously.Generally money is spent lavishly  oncrackers and sparklers , decorations , feasts, gold ornaments etc duringDeepavali celebrations, all of   whichare unproductive .Austerity  should bethe guiding principle  of life  and not conspicuous indulgence in luxuriesand comforts of life . The money which will otherwise be spent on such itemsshould be spent  to feed the poor andhungry , giving medical aid , sponsoring children for education ,, trainingpeople in job skills , improving sanitary conditions , creating productiveassets in the community etc. At the national and international levels , moneyshould not be used for the manufacture and pilling up of weapons  of mass destruction, but on those items  that will lead to  economic  development and all roundprosperity of the people . Nations today distrust each other and have falsesense of security. Each nation, particularly, the advanced nations believe thatthey should have competitive edge over others in arms strength, bothconventional and modern nuclear. They believe that arms strength would act as deterrentto belligerent countries and it would ward off aggression, which is a falsebelief. Based on this belief there is competition in building up arms.Scientific discoveries  are used  for destructive rather than peaceful purposes,for building lethal weapons .The accidental use of one atomic or hydrogen bombby one rogue country   is enough to wipeout the entire humanity from the face of earth and  make the earth inhospitable for life for centuries. Man is capable of producing weapons having such destructive power. In starwars , there is no winner or loser, as in the case of conventional war , wherethe weaponry is  not much developed .Boththe aggressor and the nations towards which aggression is directed  are equally in peril .It is a pity that the so-calledmodern man is unable to realize the gravity of the situation . People have seenthe aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing during Second World War. It wasthe realization of destruction due to war and to prevent the 3rdworld war , most of the countries of the world joined together to set up aninternational organization called United Nations Organization which was setup   as back as in 1945  with equal emphasis on  resolving the conflicts through negotiations,preventing war and aid back ward nations to fight against poverty and diseasesand  to make all countries democraticsovereign republics , free from colonialism . Ever since its inception, it has been striving to achieve those goals .We cannot say that even after over 6 decades of its existence and with currentmembership of 192 countries it has achieved much  in staling arms race . If the money spent yearly on defense can be divertedto developmental purposes, we will be able to tackle the problem of poverty that exists in the world. In ourcountry itself, it is estimated that there is more than 400 million people whoare below poverty or subsistence level .  In countries like Africa and Latin America,  conditions of the people are deplorable.  In our country (India) what we see is pocketsof richness and islands of poverty. The need of the hour is to ensure that thecommon man  is able to lead a reasonablycomfortable life. ‘ . Nobel lareate Amirthya Sen’s welfare economic model   comesto our mind  to grapple with the problemof mass poverty and illiteracy . we cannot be proud of our country unless and untilwe find that no person suffers from  want of food , shelter and clothing and they enjoy democratic freedom. He should be in a position to choose hisrepresentative who will work for the common good rather than winning electionwith powers of money, muscle power and influences of caste and community and religion.The leaders whom people chose through ballots should be those who have saintlycharacter in the sense who are self less and ready to make personal sacrificesfor alleviating the sufferings of common man  and who are able to empathize with the lot ofcommon man. The joy of serving the community should be motivating force orinspiration for their work .Currently we are moving more and more towards rank materialism.Monetary gain , amassing quick wealth , indulging in luxuries , vying with eachother in cornering personal benefits   etc seem to be values which are promoted inpersonal and social life . Instead of this , we should uphold the value s ofausterity ,simplicity , moderation in our consumption habits, humanness ,personal  sacrifice , harmony in personalrelationships , service to humanity , being active , productive and innovativeand other values .If we look at the human life today rather closely , we wouldwonder whether we are not at the sub-human level .The human life should reflectthe influence  of inner light.

Rituals

In preparation for Deepavalicelebrations, the entire house is cleaned up and kept neat and tidy. The wholeplace is decorated with festoons of colored papers and innumerable simmeringlights and Rangoli or beautiful  designsmade with colors on the floor .  Deitieslike Mahalakshmi,  Sri Ganesha, and LordKrishna   are worshipped. Variousdelicious sweets and, savories are prepared and offered to deities as’ Prasad’.Feasts are also arranged for family members and friends. It is the time for  get- together of family members and people inthe neighborhood for promoting friendship and wishing each other success intheir lives in the year ahead. Feelings of oneness permeate the life of thecommunity during such festive occasions. We should earnestly try to develop feelings of oneness with others, thesocial bond which we thus develops stays till next year till we renew it .

Deepavali celebrations extend 5 days,as pointed out eelier. First day is called ‘Danteras or Danthrodashi’ which ison the 13 th day of the month of Ashvin. On this day the Lord Yamaraja, wholiberates the soul from the body envelope is worshipped to avert prematuredeath, and also for prosperity and wellbeing. A single earthen lamp is lit   in his honor .In addition believing this dayas auspicious, Business people close their annual accounts and open newaccounts for the coming year. There is belief that old things should bediscarded and as many new things should be procured during Deepavali  as sign of visit of Mahalakshmi . With theresult, People are on the shopping spree. Ladies buy gold ornaments,silver   or vessels as a mark of good luck. All, nomatter whether they can afford or not do shopping. High power advertising makespeople gullible. Unfortunately, this is the time the consumers are exploited. Fortraders this happens to be the time for making quick profits. Going by thepopular belief that new goods should be bought ,the demands  for goods likevessels, dress. T.Vs. Fridge, crackers and what not sour high.  People try to acquire more and more of suchluxury items whether they can afford or not. This though not originallyintended , is the darker side of Deepavali celebration .We have to realize thisand put  an end to our desires . Many gofor higher purchases   and becomeindebted for the rest of the year till next Deepavali comes when they go forfresh purchase. Thus they keep paying more than the worth of what they get andbecome permanently indebted.

There is a legend associated with this day. Itis believed that according to horoscopic prediction, the sixteen year old son ofking Hima was doomed to die on the fourth of his marriage by snake bite . So,on the fourth day of his marriage, his worried wife lighted innumerable lampsall over the place. She laid all her ornaments and lots of gold and silver in abig heap infront of the room where her husband was resting .  and she chanted devotional songs throughoutnight . when Yamaraja came in the guise of serpent to claim her husband , hefound that he was blinded  by theglitter  of gold  and  got mesmerized by the dazzling sights anddevotional singing, stayed there witnessing the scene and returned  at the dawn without causing any harm to herhusband .  It is a powerful story whichreveals the true love of husband and wife and sacred nature of marriage. Hindushave always considered marriage as a sacred union which lasts the life time ofthe partners. The in-laws of boys consider the coming of daughter-in-law totheir house as coming of Goddess Lakshmi. Marriage institution is so strong inthe Hindu culture that there is hardly any divorce between the partners .It isconsidered that marriage between a boy and a girl symbolizes coming together oftwo families and even two communities. These cultural perspectives have helped the couple to adjust mutually and come out with a common life style and hasensured  the permanency  and emotional security of parenthood tochildren , which is a strong psychological need for the development of healthypersonalities of children . As it was the glitter of gold in light that madethe retreatof snake possible  , from thenon  buying of gold on that day came to bebelieved as auspicious. The episode makes clear that Yama  in the form of serpent  who stands for death, mortality ,annihilation and destruction can be won over by dazzling lights anddevotional  spirit , which represent  divinity , peace , creation, longevity andsustenance .

The second day is celebrated as Naraka chathurdashi,commemorating thedeath of Narakasura or Demon in the hands of Sathyabhama .Thisday is also called as ‘chotti Diwali’ Before dawn people take bath smearingscented oil on their bodies . Puja  isconducted in honor of Lord Krishna .The episode of Sathyabhama’s killing ofNarakasura  probably means that when thequestion of  fighting evil for therestoration of virtues arises , even women who are normally submissive, become daring.  The third day  of thefestival  which falls on  Amavasya  or no-moon night or dark night, when earth does not receive reflectedlight from the moon, because of the relative position of earth, sun and themoon , is the most important day  and itis devoted entirely to the worship of Goddess of Lakshmi , the Goddess ofwealth and prosperity .

A sublime light of knowledge dawns upon thehumanity and the self enlightenment  are expressedthrough twinkling of  lamps in thebackground of darkness all around the place including  the mansions of the rich and the hutments ofthe poor . It is believed that the special power or chithanya  of Goddess Lakshmi , being ready to showerprosperity on people  is present on thisday . It is believed  that Goddess  Lakshmi descends upon earth on this day tovisit houses to shower her blessings , which are kept neat and tidy, where  people toil and strive hard to achieve and where they they spend time in piety anddevotion and where  they extend colorfulwelcome .

 Fourth day Govardhanpuja is performed . It isworshipping of Mount Govardhana . There are two legends behind this worship,both speak the  glory of Lord Krishna .Another name of Lord Krishna is Govardhana meaning protector of Cows. Firstlegend goes like this . Lord Krishna noticed that people of Vraja , who werefarmers spending a  lot of time  conducting elaborate  rituals of worship to invoke the blessing of Indra , the God of rain for timelyrain . Lord Krishna told them that they, being farmers ought to spend theirtime in doing real work of cultivation rather than spending time on ritualslike puja . He thus exorted people to be practical minded and dissuaded themfrom performing rituals. Indra being angry along with Vayu or Lord of wind letoff torrential down pour and whole Vraja was going to be immersed under water. Atthat time Lord Krishna lifted that hilly region with his fore finger and thusrescued people and their cattle from being drowned.  People worshipped Krishna for this act. Fromthat time . to commemorate the incident , people started performing Govardhanpuja  to propitiate Lord Krishna . Onthis day, people from U.P, Panjab, Harayana and Bihar build shape of a hillwith cow dung and decorate it with flowers; representing Govardhan Mountain andoffer worship to Lord Krishna.

 The moral of this legend is very clear. Nothingcan come out of miracle. It is the hard and sustained labor that bring fruit..wecan not expect  natural phenomena likerain  occur by performing rituals. Wefind  people  believe in this even today in this scientificage .we hear people performing  yagas orceremonial worship  to appease rain Godfor rains .  Delayed or untimely rain  or shortage of rain fall or climate changehappens when we tamper with ecological balance .   so weshould avoid plundering nature , if we want timely rain and enjoy othernature’s bounties .If we disturb nature’s balance by over exploitation ofnature , natural havocs like earthquake , floods, tsunami , Katarina  and such natural  havocs are likely to happen . Our age oldVedic wisdom proclaims that we should live harmony with nature .We have atradition of worshipping animals, trees, rivers   , earth etc with the firm belief that all thoseand human life are inextricably, inseparably, symbiotically and irreversiblylinked with each other  .The existence ofone  depends upon the existence of theother and vice versa  It is a whole, notto be conceived as parts.  This is depictedin the epic sloga ‘Purna madaPurna mida …………’

 This day is also celebrated as ‘Annakoot’ MeaningMountain of food. Pious people observe ‘jagaran’ or keep awake the whole night,prepare 56 to 108 types of dishes for the ‘bhog’ or feast   , offer it to Lord Krishna and distributefood to all as ‘Prasad’. In temples in Mathura and Nagawara, deities  are given milk bath, dressed in shinyattires, and  ornaments of dazzling gold,diamonds , pearls and rubies are put on . After prayers and worship, severalitems of food are raised in the form of a hill before the deities as ‘bhog’ . Devoteesapproach the hill of food and take some from it . The offering of food to Godis an expression of gratitude of the devotees for the bounty of nature, as itis the time when harvest season comes to an end in almost all parts of north India.What this ritual conveys is that we should be grateful to everybody and to the naturewithout whose support and nurturance, our life on earth would have been impossible.Everything in this universe is so interrelated and mutually supporting. It isthe supreme power which   has created everythingand has made this interdependency as law of nature. The second lesson thisritual teaches us is that whatever we have, we should not either hoard it oruse it only for oneself, but at least a fair part of it we should share withthe needy.  Sharing resources with theneedy is a noble act. The act is nobler if we give to others what we have, byforgoing it to ourselves or that is by making personal sacrifice. That isputting others before self. This is highest form of service. When we develop ‘vyragya ‘or detachment to outside objects or develop mastery of self over theobjects of the world and thus become absolute master of ourselves , we find ourwants are very few and giving away tends to be irresistible force working withinus. One experiences joy in being of service to others rather than living for oneself . This is the stage which Vedatins call as ‘Jeevanmukta’ or liberatedsoul.

Another legend is given in Ramayana. WhenLakshmana sethu , the bridge was built by Vanara sena monkey brigade forcrossing over ocean  to reach Lanka insearch of Seetadevi , Hanuman , the Devotee of Lord Rama and commander-in-chiefof Vanara army  was carrying a mountainon his hand as material for the bridge . The call was given that enoughmaterials were already obtained.  Due towant of time, Hanuman could not carry it back to its place . He left it there .The deity presiding over the mountain asked Hanuman the reason for leaving themountain there. Hanuman replied that the mountain would remain there tillDwapara yuga when Lord Rama incarnates as Lord Krshna and he would  assume its form , making it worthy ofworship. This deity about whom Hanuman spoke  was none other than Lord Krishna himself who manifested in the form ofmountain. Thus Govandhan puja was started which continues even today. Whatcomes out of this legend is the vedantic truth that divinity is present in everythingand everywhere. In other words God is omnipresent. Lord Vishnu who incarnatedas Narasimhavathara to get rid of demon Hiranyakasipu told Prahlada ,Vishnudevotee and son of Hiranyakasipu that God is present in the iron pillar and inthe rust as well .  This legend alsobrings out rather succinctly the importance of protection of eco -system forthe survival and welfare of mankind .

Today we find in the name of economicdevelopment, large scale destruction of ecosystem takes place. Overexploitation of natural resources, deforestation , pollution of soil , waterand air are the order of the day, thwarting the existence of mankind .The  present generation due to avariciousnessseems to forget that we owe to the future generation  to pass on to them the earth as a habitableplace as handed over to us and as a place where life is possible . Festivalslike Deepavali teach us this fundamental lession .We can see this only if we understandthe real meaning of Deepavali celebration, or the meaning of any other Indian festivalsfor that matter. It is a meaningless exercise to observe the ritualisticaspects alone in the celebration of any festival.

The fifth day is the final day ofDeepavali celebration. This day is known as ‘Baiya Dooj ‘ It is special day forcementing the relations between brothers and sisters . The terms brothers andsisters should not be construed narrowly as those born to the same parents. Allaround us are brothers and sisters , the children of God . When SwamiVivekananda ,  who preached  vedantic philophy  in the west in his famous Chicago address atParliament of world religions addressed the audience as brothers and sisters .It had electrifying or mystic effect.

The legend behind the celebration ofthis day  pertains to Yamaraj , theGoddess of Death in Hindu mythology.It is believed that  he made a good will visit to her Sister Yamini.Yamini welcomed him  and took arathi (moving the lit traditionalbronze lamp with flame , kept in a plate, with right hand , clock wise in frontof his face, which is religious  way ofwelcoming , praying for the blessing of God for protection from evils, of theperson being welcomed  and putting avermilion mark on his forehead .) Sisters also observe fasting (abstain fromtaking food on that day, which is religious custom for  grace of God to  persons whom they wish best of luck)  . It is a personal sacrifice made for thewellbeing of brothers. One can see how pure the brotherly and sisterlyaffection towards each other is.

 Yam raj and Yamani dinned and had happy gettogether.  t .He  presented  her gifts  , reciprocating  his love towards his sister . From that day onwards, it is believed that anyone who   receives vermilion mark or bindi   put by his sister will receive the grace of God.Since then it is the practice followed by brothers to pay special visit totheir sisters for exchanging good wishes. Those who do not have own sistersconsider any other ladies as their sisters and exchange good wishes and gifts. Themessage that follows from this ritual is that we all should live like brothersand sisters, being affectionate towards each other rather than beingindifferent towards each other or having strained relationships. Studies haveshown that people who live cordially with each other enjoy both physical andmental health.

Regional Variations

In Andhra Pradesh, on Deepavali day, buffalois given ceremonial bath. In Maharastra, Deepavali celebration begins from the12th day of second half of the month Ashwin. They celebrate this dayby giving ceremonial bath to the cows and calves and performing ‘Arti’ on them.It is symbolic of wishing long and healthy life to them and also as indicativeof love between mother and baby or parent –child relationships It reminds thesanctity  and purity of motherly love orlove of universal mother .14 th day of Ashwin is celebrated asNarakachathurdashi . It is followed by Lakshmi puja or worship of Lakshmi Thedark night is illuminated with Diyas and there is spectacular display offireworks .An interesting feature is that the ‘broom stick’ used for cleaningthe house is also worshipped as Goddess Lakshmi in some places .Generally broomstick is a thing of condemnation . Here it is elevated to divine level . It isthe result of high level thinking. Broom stick is the tool to remove dirt andkeep the place neat and clean. Lakshmi is present only in clean and tidy places. There is an adage with which we are familiar that cleanliness is next to Godliness.Another message that comes through the act of worshipping broom is that weshould not look down upon any thing. Everything has its place on earth and tomake a complete picture.

Indians who stay overseas for a long time,feel more nostalgic  and for them  festivals lie Deepavali hold specialsignificance. They herald the feelings of ‘onenesses among fellow Indians. Theyapart from conducting  rituals,approximating the way they are done back home,  make it a social function or get togetherfor  exchanging wishes and gifts ,feasting and  presenting  forms of Indian art and culture  in the alien land, trying utmost to bringtheir original spirit and ethos .It is time to connect to people , relativesand friends   far and near.

In Nepal, which is a Hindu kingdom Deepavaliis celebrated with much enthusiasm. There it is also called ‘Tihar Swanti ‘Celebrationgoes on five days. First day is called as ‘kaag Thihar’ or giving ceremonial bathand offerings are given to the cow. Second day is called ‘Kukur Thihar’. Onthis day dogs are worshipped for its honesty .It conveys that we should notlook down upon any being. The dogs which we look down upon have many good qualities,which we ourselves  do not display . Theyare faithful servants of their masters. Honesty, Dependability and otherqualities are worthy of cultivation The ritual of worshipping dogs impressesupon us the need to develop qualities like truthfulness, dependability ,loyalty etc . Third day is celebrated as Lakshmi puja . On 4th dayis considered as Nepali New Year and on that day human body is worshipped assymbolic of the importance of maintaining stamina and good health.  Without health  no one how much talented he may be , will beable to be productive in the economic sense . 5th day is celebrated as ‘Bhaitika ‘. Sisters wish theirbrothers best of luck by putting vermilion mark on the fore head of their brothers.Brothers give gifts to their sisters in reciprocation. Both acts are symbolic ofbond between them. In U.S.A the practice of celebrating Deepavali  wasstarted  by U.S G ovt. During PresidentGeorge bush’s tenure .It was celebrated in the Indian Treaty Room in a buildingannexed to White house. However President Bush never attended the function . It was after a change of regime in Washington,D.C  that Deepavali made foray into the main WhiteHouse. President Obama  himself lit the’diya’ or lamp  on 14th Oct2009 three days ahead of Deepavali, in the midst of rituals by Indian priests,  just after signing an executive orderrestoring  the White House AdvisoryCommission  and Inter-Agency WorkingGroup  to address issues concerning  Asian and Pacific islander Community. In his address, President Obama recalledthat some of the world’s  greatest faithscelebrate the triumph of god over evil . He added that India is one of the most dynamic, tolerant and diversesocieties in the world and  hence hewould  celebrate this year’s Deepavaliwith  young minds in Mumbai  to  paytribute  to the cultural diversity andits tradition of tolerance . This is the highest honor, which India receivedfor her traditional cultural excellence.

Similarly in Newzeland, Deepavali is celebratedat official level in the parliament house. Deepavali is the festival which integrates all Indians and people of Indian origin in overseas and all peoplein our country and brings to them the common feeling that they are Indians. In addition Deepavali celebrations can enlighten us and reform us, if we follow the moral/ethicalhuman values which the rituals clearly bring out, rather than observing justthe rituals.

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Stress and Its management – A way to mainatain  Mental Health

By Dr.A.SreekumarMenon

In modern times, stress posesgreatest danger to humanity .Its effect is insidious like the effects of atomicradiation. So there is every case to fight it out. A stress free life is thehealthiest, most enjoyable and highly resourceful personally and leads tohealthy and vibrant social life. Being cognizant of its importance, this paperaddresses such issues like its nature, symptoms or manifestations, and copingstrategies.

In common parlance, the word ‘stress’is used to mean the psychic state or condition of min, characterized byfeelings of tension and discomfort. In other words it is equated with‘distress’ alone .On the other hand, the word stress also connotes a state ofintense experience of pleasant emotions, moments joy. For example the joy oneexperiences when one hears the news of winning a lottery, fetching large sum ofmoney or the joy a student experiences on hearing the news that he has passedthe examination with distinction or the joy we experience when we perform afeat. A scientist who  works strenuouslyon a problem, cracks the secret of nature and comes out with abreakthrough  experiences exhilaration  .To distinguish  this kind of state from the former one, the term that may be used  is ‘eustress’ to indicate the heightened  feeling of joy or exhilaration .Stresswhether it is distress or eustress  is  overreaction to thecircumstances .Eustress , up to a limit is a positive reaction and distress is anegative reaction . Experience of stress is largely individual matter. Twopersona react  differently, let us say toa stressful situation namely the loss of money or family discord differently .One may react violently and may beoverwhelmed by the situation , another may allow to pass off the situation , withoutcausing much damage to him .Similarly one maybe overwhelmed by unexpectedachievement , while another person may take it as an ordinary matter .Similarly,  one person may put up with the suffering ,while for another person , it could intolerable .So it all depends upon the waywe condition our mind . Persons who  getexcited  and elated easily may also getdepressed easily .the emotions  , in suchcases fluctuates and change  of mood isfast and cyclic Equanimity of mind or our ability to face both success or failure, gain or loss , pleasure orpain  equally is recommended in all ourepics and scriptures .

Here in this paper, the word stressis used to denote distress, as this is the way this word is understood bypeople and hence  to  avoid confusion in understanding theinformation presented in this paper .

Stress is a reaction of the person tothe demands or experienced demands by him. It is a stirred up or heightedstate, both physiologically and mentally.. Experience of stress developsreadiness on the part of the person to cope with the situation, inducing stress.It provides the person with an alarm signal, as it were, to the possible dangerand prompts the person to mobilize his strength to deal with the sources of danger.For instance, when we face a situation threatening our life, let us say, comingface to face with a cobra, we become panic and vigilant and try to run away. Atthat time, all the bodily resources are used up to face the situation.  The normal blood supply to systems likedigestion gets reduced and supply of blood to brain and muscles get increased,  giving more energy to them to escapefrom life threatening situation .But in the normal case the reaction s or thephysiological changes that take place within the body should last only for ashort while  and the equilibrium shouldbe restored . Its normal function is to protect the safety and ensure the wellbeing of the person.

There are numerous outsideconditions, which we face in our day to day life which we perceive as stressful.Loss of dear and near ones , illness, long periods of unemployment andconsequent poverty , reduction of purchasing power due to spiraling inflation ,meeting with accidents ,  strained relationshipsbetween husband and wife , parents and children, between neighbors ,betweenboss and subordinates, long hours of work or burning midnight oil   depriving sleep staying too long in noisyand polluted atmosphere ,  working under regimentarianboss, working under unsafe, highly noisy, highly hot and humid workingenvironment , receiving  conflictinginstructions from the boss , working at odd hours such as night  and rotating shifts,  stress experienced  during examinations by students and so on .In fact, the outside conditions which induce stress called stressors are many.Thus the origin of stress can be family, friends, employment, and the publicand so on. The stressors are also called as problems in the common parlance.Certain situations or conditions act as stressors invariably for all, whileothers appear to be stressful only to some people, who are vulnerable to stressdue to their personality makeup  orunresolved mental/emotional conflicts or lack of proper mental health.

It is not that life should be withoutproblems, if people were to enjoy their lives. The question is how long thestress lasts when a person senses a real problem? If it does not last long andif it just wakes up or alerts the person to the problem, then it is healthy andfunctional .It actually does good to the person. It acts as ‘inbuilt safety mechanism’. It energizes the person to take proper course of action .For instance,when a person falls ill, he is stressed and feels uncomfortable. This feeling should prompt him to take bed rest and follow the required lines of treatmentrather than keep exerting and aggravating the condition. However, he should notbe tensed up till he recovers. If he remains tensed up , it might affect hisrecovery . He may not recover fast. On the other hand, if he keeps mind calmand composed, he may follow Doctor’s instructions, take medicines  prescribed and take food recommended ,respond to medication  and recover fast.The immune function also works better . Our old adage ‘necessity is the motherof invention ‘reveals this truth. But for the discontent with existingconditions of living , man would  not have progressed  from the stage of caveman and achieved the material progress we find today .It is said that even warcan have a positive effect on people by generating pressure on them to innovatenew systems and practices for survival and to overcome  effects of war  , although  this a approach is not adopted deliberatelyto achieve  renewal of economy . Spur tonew discoveries is only an offshoot of war .But for the possible depletion of fossilfuels in the near future,nations would not have gone with frantic search foralternate sources of energy.

Nature has built  normal stress reaction as a safety mechanism, in the sense , when there is real threat to the wellbeing of person or danger to the safety and security ofpersons , it acts as bio-signal .The perception of danger creates certainphysiological and mental changes which give raise readiness t o meet the situation which poses danger , suchas  making the person  more alert ,mobilizing his muscular and otherresources to deal with the situations of stress .The threat need not always befrom outside physical forces , it could be mental or psychic and social . Thestress situation could be ones which are actually present or imaginary. So longas feeling of stress is mild and it acts a bio-signal, in the sense that ithelps the person to cope with stressful situation, it is healthy. If thefeelings of stress is acute,that is disproportionate to the source of stressand or due to internal conditions of persons and prolongs, then it isdysfunctional. In modern industrial way of life, most often, the stressexperienced by persons   loses itsfunctionality and   is harmful .Hence the need to ward off  stress.

Some people work better under closesupervision and control and under pressure of approaching dead line, whileothers are not so .They prefer general supervision. They meticulous plan  and adopt regular schedule of work and  like to work at their comfortable pace .Someteachers  keep very busy in teaching  at the end of academic session. Students burnmidnight oil, when the exams are approaching .Employees  in government offices  sit late in their office to clear pending work as the budget year almost comes toclose .Bank personnel keep busy with their work pertaining to closing of annual accounts .

If stress prolongs, then it may leadto several debilitating effects .Possible symptoms due to prolonged or chronicstress can be classified broadly into three categories: 1.those at the personallevel, 2those at the family and social level and 3. Those at the enterpriselevel or at the workplace.

At the physiological level

The following are some of thetypical  physiological symptoms :palpitation of heart which means heat is beating faster than the normal rate (,normalrate being 72 beats per minute)  ,highB.P ( beyond 140/90 ), excessive sweating , digestive problems such as lack of appetite,diarrhea, constipation,  flatulence nausea, vomiting and so on ,headache , pains and aches in the body, muscles andjoints, which moves from one organ to another ,sleep disturbances includinginsomnia or difficulty in getting sleep , waking up in between and notenjoying  deep restorative sleep,  free from dreams ,complains of vision such blurring, memory disturbances, asthmaand breathing problems ,ulceration in digestive organs ,suppression of immunityand consequent  susceptibility toinfections , skin allergy such as rashes and itching ,  wrinkling of skin,premature graying  and falling of hair ,impotency in the case of males and infertility in the case of females , sexualrigidity in the case of both , leading to marital problems.

At the psychic or mental/behavior level

The possible reactions are feeling uneasy,restless and  feeling extremediscomfort  without having  any known and apparent cause ,losing tempereasily , feeling nervous, feeling tense  or hamstrung, feeling exhausted , as if runout of energy, getting tired easily ,lack of interest and motivation  ,feeling depressed or in  low mood or being  melancholic , inabilityto concentrate on an activity for long , fleeting interests , impulsivebehavior or acting on the spur of the moment without thinking about the consequencesof action ,greater distractibility , fleeting and shallow interests ,self-pitying or blaming oneself  for anylapses ,being touchy , making mountains out of mole hills or showing complaining nature , lacking confidence ,feeling inferiority, gullible, too dependent, ruminating over trifling matters, keeping aloof and not mixing with people, seeking excessive sympathy andnurturance or self abasement , being rude and arrogant , not feeling freshafter good night’s sleep ,, being moody ., being pessimistic, feelinghostility, grudge towards others, being jealous, belittling others, gossiping,day dreaming, lacking in initiative or lethargic or showing inertia, hypochondriasis   orcomplaining imaginary health problems , worrying about health , beingsuspicious of others, feeling helpless, feeling that life events are out ofcontrol , disturbing  thoughtsrunning  through the mind , swinging ofmoods from being cheerful to being morose without apparent reason , intolerant of disagreements as opposed tobeing accommodative , being defensive  or defending one’s positions at all costseven when one is at fault ,rather than being open to criticisms from others ,even when those criticisms are well meaning . being rigid , showing coldrelationships or relationships characterized by indiffence, lack of concern for others , condescendingattitude , lack of personal touch and warmth, blind conformity to religious and other practices, fear of change, lackof innovative spirit or not attempting any improved way of doing things , postponement  or delay of decision  making or procrastination , tendency to passthe buck or shifting  one’s responsibilityto others , , carrying out activities against one’s will , as if the what onedoes is unpleasant and one is forced to do other than  involving oneself in whateverone does and enjoying  it ,Excessiveindulgence or addiction to certain habits like smoking , taking alcoholicdrinks  etc ., lacking control on the waytime is spent,  being extravagant inspending or lacking economic rationality , poor self image or feeling that nothing worthwhile could be achieved ,disorganized life style  and so on .Thosewho   are in a state of tension  and stress for a long time  feel pressure of time , feel that he shouldhurry through activities, feel that  theyhectic schedule and that  they would behyperactive meaning   keep doing  something or other  vigorously , dissipating energy and gettingexhausted or not being able to  carry outactivities leisurely and not being able to relax and take rest .

At the family level

Prolonged stress experienced byfamily members may express inone or more of the following ways : Those arefrequently falling ill, very little interaction among the family members orfamily members avoiding  each other. Thisis opposite of keeping intimate relations, out of which comes mutualunderstanding and family bon., family quarrels between husband and wife,parents and children, lacking purpose or goal in their lives or going astray,addiction to bad habits like addiction to movies , T.V. etc disciplinaryproblems,  children lacking interest intheir studies , children coming under the sway of bad company, lack of mutualadjustment among family members or each member puling in different directionsin all family matters etc . In short, it badly affects the well being,happiness and prosperity of family life. In many cases it can lead to suchserious consequences such as infidelity, divorce, and domestic violence. Thuschronic stress takes a heavy toll on family life. Happy families are thefoundations on which prosperous nations are built.

At the enterprise  level

Stress experienced by employees  may lead to one or more of the followingproblems  for the organizations wherethey work .The reason is that other phases of life of employees cannot beseparated from their life as employees , on the contrary , the formerinfluences the latter and also vice versa .The common effects are  less efficient work, low output and quality ,go slow or work to rule , group and intergroup rivalry , unhealthy competitionbetween employees  belonging to differentdivisions/departments rather than sharing common  goals and working in unison in the interestsof the organization, employees not taking initiative  rather shirking duties, being ready  with explanations for lapses rather thanowning responsibility , shifting responsibilities or passing the buck, creatingtension ridden or emotionally charged atmosphere , high rate of grievances ,unauthorized absenteeism and accidents, casual , even guarded relationshipsbetween employees as opposed to relationships, characterized by opennesss,trustand mutual support , formation of clichés or interest groups based on caste,regions, religion  and such other narrowconsiderations  or parochial attitudeswhich might lead to communal tension and violence , increased tendency forunionization and collective bargaining at levels including the levels ofexecutives, increased propensity on the part of employees for confrontation withtop management  and to bring in  outside pressure including pressure frompolitical parties and government  forresolving internal differences , rather than resolving differences internally ,peacefullyand through negotiation Employees including those at higher levels  taking win-lose positions via-a-vis management , excessively conscious of theirrights  and privileges rather than theirduties and codes of conduct, employee misconducts  or acts of indiscipline like tardiness,insubordination ,strikes, demonstrations , heroes  and so on .

The symptoms and effects of stress on students

The symptoms and effects of stress onstudents vary depending upon their age . young school going children show tempertandrums ,  fluctuation of mood, stubbornness,resentment, rebelliousness,, lack of interest in their studies , quarrelsomeattitude , being passive rather than being active ,  habits such as addiction to watching T.V.Enforcement of strict discipline  throughpunishments  by the parents  coupled with lack of love and attention  and lack of mutual understanding   between them and parents through communicationand regimentarian  atmosphere in theschool and lack of interaction between students and teachers  are some of the main causes  for  their stressful experiences .  The children are handicapped in their intellectual,emotional, social and moral development of their personalities, when they leadstressed life.  College students who arein their adolescent and post-adolescent stages experience stress  because of the emotional disturbances  characteristic of those stages and also dueto lack of supportive  home, college andcommunity environment .This period is a turning point in their lives .It is atthis stage  it is determined whether theywould  grow and develop into resourcefuland responsible adults or would turn out to be social deviance and whetherthey  are able to develop their fullintellectual potential or not. The symptoms of stress experienced  at these stages are  lacking general interest in matters ,beinglethargic ,unsteady mood , lack of understanding with adults includingparents  ,  lack of personal discipline ,affinity forgang life ,rebelliousness ,bravado or excessive risk taking tendency ,stayingin the world of phantasy rather than being in touch with realities , irregular personal habits , taking tounhealthy habits like excessive smoking ,drinking etc, being careless inpersonal grooming  such as wearingsoiled  dress , lacking social skills etc. If they continue these habits, they may become liabilities to themselves, totheir parents and to the community, even though they may be academicallybrilliant .

At the community, societal andnational levels

When hectic life become the norm of city life and common life style ,all the people come under the influence oftension and stress .Environmental conditions such as high noise level ,increased pollution and attitudes of indifference towards each othercharacteristic of urban life ,monetary strains due to spiraling inflation, pressure of population, frustrationsand corruption in public life  and so onadd to  tension and stress .When peopleare stressed ,they may express less of human qualities such as compassion,courtesy, fairness etc . They may also behave in such a way that their behaviorleads to communal tension and violence , apart from leading a mechanical life ,a life lacking in real joy and controlled by outside forces . The stress levelsof the people can even affect national security. Tension at the national levelcan lead to collapse of internal order and even war.

Characteristics of Tension free state

The following are some of thecharacteristics of tension free state .These are  normal rhythm of breathing , neither too fastnot too slow ,feeling relaxed , experiencing peace and tranquility andhappiness, feeling energetic, feeling confident and hopeful , moderation inwhatever one is engaged in , general feelings of satisfaction with one’s day today activities ,sense of purpose, feeling of control or the feeling that onecan make things happen the way one wants by one’s efforts , ability to concentrate and get absorbed in a task as long as one wants , interestand involvement in activities one is engaged in as opposed to forcing oneselfagainst the will, keeping calm and cool when facing problems and difficult situations , problem solving attitude,  carrying out activities  at comfortable pace rather than hurryingthrough , emotional control  which meansneither elated  not depressed and neitherfluctuating ,realistic estimation  orself concept or self esteem of oneself or aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and maintaining  overall positive attitudes , ability  to accept criticism without being defensive or taking adverse commentssupportively , feeling fee  rather thanfeeling restraint or  being  friendly with and helpful to people, abilityto influence others through persuasion , ability  to put oneself in other’s place and seethings , the way others see or called empathy,  ability to adjust to the behavior ofothers  meaning  neither too dominant nor too submissive,being contented  and cheerful  most of the time  or being contented with what one has orgratification, ability to re-energize through rest , relaxation and gettingabsorbed in one or other leisure time activities or hobbies, thinking followedby action  rather  than being impulsive  or acting on the spur of the moment ,being awareof one’s needs , motives and impulses that prompt action, ability to satisfypersonal needs within the constraints of the environment , holding realisticaspirations  or having congruity betweenexpectations  and capabilities to meetthose expectations  as opposed to holdingunrealistic expectations , adapting to changing conditions , thinking along newlines and producing new ideas and improved ways of  doing tasks and so on . From the descriptionsabove, it can be seen that tension free state is the ideal state of mind and bodyby which a person can life more enjoyable and productive. To attain andmaintain this state, we should know how to transact with world outside. Whichwe continually engage in, which we call life .

Coping Strategies

It is important to know   about the ways by which we can preventchronic stress  and or de-stress once weare caught in its grip .As the stressors having outside sources are innumerable , it is  difficult to think of copingstrategies for every conceivable situation . Instead, we can broadly classifythe strategies into two broad categories viz 1. Individual strategies and 2Organizational strategies. Individual strategies are those which persons can adoptand they are in the form of mental health principles .providing healthy outletsto our pent up emotions and impulses and development of proper personality orientations.

Mental health principles

We should not allow ourselves to be overwhelmedby problems or we should not subdue ourselves to problems, we perceive. On theother hand we should be courageous to face the problems and solve them.  We approach the problems with calm mind. Weshould   face stress provoking situationssquarely and should develop the habit of analyzing them factually without emotionalizing.Bagavad Gita, the ancient philosophical and spiritual text is full of mentalhealth principles. The following famous and oft repeated verse  can be quoted in support of this claim : ‘Karmanyevaadhikarathe, Mabhaleshu kadaachana, ma karmabhala hetu bur ma tesagosthwakarmani (chapter2.verse 47 description about illumined man)‘ The literal meaning of this is ‘towork alone, you have the right, never to the fruit thereof. Let not one’smotive be the fruits of action or one’s attachment to be inaction. At the veryfundamental level, we are warned of resting in inaction. Action is the insigniaor elixir of life. There for, one must constantly strive to be in the state ofalert action. Inaction leads to lethargy and spiritual degradation, which leadsto stress and which robs man of not only his strength and vitality, but hisdignity as well .An action-oriented person is less likely to be in prolongedstress, particularly if he enjoys his action and which he carries out inworshipful attitude .A lethargic person becomes part of the problem. He is the person who withdraws himselftowards his inner world of fears, anxieties, apprehensions and feelings ofinsecurities rather than confronting the problems with a sense of challenge andwith a mind of calmness and equipoise. We should give up the preoccupation withthe results or fruits of our actions .Desire for the fruits of action disturbsthe equanimity  or steadiness of the mindand slowly eats its way into efficiency . when there is  strong expectation for the result  , the mind becomes attached to it and slowly, the act of working  loses its joyand charm and above all its purifying power .We know when a student is strongly  obsessed with the results of the ensuing examination , he worries toomuch that he is unable to concentrate on his preparations  for hisexamination .Similarly an employee who works only for money will always beworried as to how he could make  as muchmoney as he wanted  or a subordinate   who is worried about the approval from his boss,  he can hardly concentrate on his  work. Undue preoccupation with the possible consequences of one’s action may led tostress and paralyses one’s  ability toact as happened in the case of Arjuna , the legendary hero of Mahabharata . Inthe face of difficulties or problems, we may feel helpless, although we may bestrong enough to handle the problem. We lose sight of our strength temporarily.This phenomenon is called ‘resource myopia’. When we worry about the results ofour actions, we tend to be stressed and we fail to concentrate our minds toface the problem. It is our  strongattachment to ourselves that makes us concerned about the possible gains of ouractions. If we accept the view that we are not the ‘doers’ ,but onlyinstruments of some higher power or some higher power is working through us ,we would act without  bothering  the comes out of our actions and we mayaccept  whether it is success or failure,gain or loss, pleasure or pain  with asense of equanimity .

Proper balancing of aspirations andachievements is necessary from keeping oneself away from stress. One’s aspirationsshould spur one’s efforts for achievement and aspiration should be set at alevel which can be achieved. Because of our consumerist economy, people live beyondtheir means and this tendency to run after pleasures lands them in perpetualconflict and frustration which makes life stressful. More is the accumulationof material wealth, more is the discontent with existing condition and strongeris the need to chase more wealth .It is like chasing a mirage. The circlebreaks, when we become contented with what we have.

Leading the so-called ‘fast life‘  burns out people with stress Peopletake on more activities than they can carry out ., with the result ,  theysuffer because they are always hurried . Making life selective is the way togain freedom from stress. One should attend to only so much matters which hecan handyle  at comfortable pace. Inother words,  some unnecessary activitiesare to be dropped out  .Generally incities people follow a hectic schedule ., because there are so many things inthe outside world, catching  or demandingour attention  due to effects ofaggressive advertising,   particularlythrough electronic media Being hurry affects our concentration  which in turn affects the quality of ourefforts. In modern life, people are sucked into so many activities   that their life is like a running race,holding their breath, which takes heavy toll of their lives. What is advocatedis to limit daily activities to which sufficient amount of undeterred attentioncan be given and have the satisfaction of having completed them satisfactorily.In other words, we should not get caught in the whirl wind of fast machinepaced modern life  and should slow downthe speed of our life , with our efforts, which is possible .

Finding some quiet moments for oneself

This could be the time we spent inprayer, meditation, temple worship, and practice of relaxation techniques,engaging in sports, games and  fun, ofcourse within limits, practicing some hobbies or leisure time activities ,particularly of creative type like singing , dancing , drama, drawing and,painting , literary work, modeling  attempts at innovations , chatting with fiends, not gossiping and so on . We should not be embroiled in our daily routineswhich makes life monotonous and hence stressful. We should take some time offto enjoy lighter moments such as for taking a natural walk amidst greenery ,watching the beauty of nature etc and in rendering some voluntary communityservice with absolutely no expectation for any gain  either material or power or name or influenceand just with the pure motive of helping the needy .Prayer, temple worship andsuch solitary activities, if we do with full concentration  would help to calm down  the mind and make the  mind peaceful , which is otherwise agitatedall the time like the agitation of  wavesin the ocean during tsunami .  In prayer wethink of only divine symbol and no other disturbing thoughts pass through ourmind and we remain  humble , not  egoistic or self-assertive, with the result,  both our body and mind relax and weexperienced peace of mind .

Calming our mind is necessary for checkingdisturbing thoughts that invade our mind and controlling the grip of our sensesover our mind and behavior, both of which create tension and stress. Meditationor calming the mind using certain techniques is helpful to calm our minds. Thereare different schools of meditation such as Astagayoga of Patanjali,transcendental meditation technique formulated by Maharshi Mahesh Yogi , Rajayoga techniques, formulated by Brhamakumaris, Hatha yoga, sudharshanachakratechnique developed by Sri Sri Ravishankar and the  simple method found out by this author and so on . Western scholars have also havebrought out a number of relaxation techniques such as Bio-feedback , Jacobson’stechnique of progressive relaxation and the exercises proposed by Hans Seyle inhis book  ‘ stress without distress’ arefew examples .  The underlying principlein all these  is withdrawing  the mind inside.Eknath  Easwaran, whois   a Kerala born philosopher whopopularized yoga in  U.S. and author ofseveral books including Bhagavad-Gita for daily living suggests the followingmethod : one should sit  with spinalcolumn erect , keeping spine ,neck and head in straight line either on thefloor or if one prefers n a straight back chair . one should close one’s eyesgently and repeat silently or sub vocally any symbol like ‘Om’ or memorize anyinspirational passage such as the prayer of Fransis Asisi or the verses in the secondor twelth chapter of BhagavadGita, or the first chapter of Dhammapada of Buddhaor the sermon on the mount or verses from Upanishads .One should recall eachsound or word slowly so that it settles down in our consciousness. When distraction come, we should not resist them, weshould allow them to pass off, without noticing them and concentrating more onthe verses chosen when one remains in this state, after a while, mind clams down.When the mind acquires the characteristic of being calm, stress and tension arenot experienced, when the mind transacts with the outside world though senses.When we  see with our mental eye theword  ‘AUM’ and repeat it  , it relieves both the body and mind from pressures of disturbing thoughts , impulsesand outside stimuli  and the body is ableto function in its natural rhythm .. The same effect can be achieved, if we sitquiet in a quiet place, close our eyes, inhale and exhale deeply but gently,and while at the same time  sensing  heart beats or diaphragm movements. After inhaling, we should hold the breath sometime before exhaling .Inhalation and Exhalation are repeated.  When we do this , after short while, we  start experiencing  feelings of relaxation , a state free fromtension and the one in which we experience joy This is the technique  developedby the author of this paper .These exercises should help to condition  our minds to stay  relaxed and composed whenfaced with situations, which normally induces stress.  Stress resistance or stress tolerance is developed. Diaphragm movements help pumping ofblood ,carrying oxygen from the heart to all parts of our body making themhealthy . According to sudharshana kriya , controlling of life breaths  helps to develop control of our mind and  maintain a stress- free or relaxed state ofmind .All the great saints of our country made use of these and other techniques of  meditation or’Thapas ‘ in Sanskrit  to control the mind which is otherwisetempestuous. Along with this, we should also develop the habit ofself-restraint or moderation in all our habits like eating, spending time inentertainments and so on.

Developing proper personality –orientationsfor empowering oneself

Another technique helpful both inprevention and control of stress is the technique of empowering the mindthrough auto-suggestion. We are always under the influence of two types offeelings – the feelings of strength or success and the feelings of weakness or failure,one of which predominantly gets aroused in our conscious min, whenever weencounter a problem . Generally when we face a problem we come under theinfluence of failure, helplessness and inadequacy. This is because the sense ofoptimism is not developed as strongly as sense of pessimism, because of our culturalconditioning. Our tendency to explain happiness and sorrow or success orfailure as caused by some invisible power called God and our belief in fatesupport this view. We don’t attribute our achievements to our efforts and ourfailures to lack of our efforts , with the result we don’t have strong motiveto achieve and we shield ourselves from lapses on our part  by attributingit to fate . Although we should not take the extreme view that   everything is under our control.  Thus sense of self-confidence in facingproblems is not developed in our psyche in sufficient strength in the course ofour development and socialization develop feelings of confidence and adequacyas general personality-orientation. Whenever we undertake a task, if we feel wecan complete it, the problem becomes a challenging situation and anopportunity. We also experience renewed energy and motivation to tackle the problem.This mental set stimulates our need for achievement or the need for being creative,which is the finest part of the personality. The question is how to developthis set of mind?. One can develop this attitude through ‘auto-suggestion ‘. Wheneverwe encounter a problem, we should keep calm and repeat telling to us that ‘wecan face the problem successfully’. This is called ‘auto –suggestion ‘ It goesinto our sub-conscious mind.  Whatevergoes to our subconscious mind  gets actedout .Reading  inspiring biographies orautobiographies of great people who changed the world for better and trying toassimilate their qualities ,would also help to develop self-confidence .Whenthere is self-confidence and desire to succeed , chances of experiencing stressiare minimum .

Time Management

Time is the most important resource,while at the same time least flexible .Time lost cannot be taken back. Time isperhaps only thing which cannot be recycled .whether a person succeeds in hislife or not depends upon how wisely he spends his time .Time wasted is time lost.Much of the stress can be prevented or minimized , if we plan and control theuse of time on activities at home, outside and in the work place .When a personhurries through tasks, he leave s none well executed and becomes anxious allthe time . When too many tasks demand one’s attention, we say he lacks controlover his time .Time is a resource like any other resources and we should planits use . Time management includes the following steps:

1 Analyzing the activities oneattends during say a day  and  a week and finding out  approximate time that goes into each activity. This is called preparing ‘time log’.

2. Finding out whether one performsall those activities at his comfortable pace or has to hurry through. If hurry though,examining whether all those activities are to be performed? .If so what arethose activities which can be delegated to others. If not, what are theactivities which can be dropped out, retaining the important ones?

3 Finding out whether the time spenton those essential activities can be reduced or those can be done at ease by regroupingor reorganizing and or improving the method of doing or using labor savinggadgets . Leading a selective life, in the sense getting involved in only somuch activities that one feels comfortable with.

4 Assigning optimum time required forthose activities

5 stopping spending  too much time on certain daily chores forinstance watching T.V .sleep  for 6to7 hrsfor restoration of energy. At any rate sleep should not be deprived. Lack ofnormal hours of sleep or sleeping at irregular hours affects the functioning ofthe brain and the quality of work suffers, in addition the person suffers from memory loss and becomes irritable.

6 Following a regular schedule in attending to different activities. for instance regular time for going to sleep and getting up , for breakfast, lunch and dinner , time for recreation  like for  evening stroll  etc .

7. Taking some time off say 10to15 minutesfor rest and relaxation after prolonged work for 2to3 hrs.

8 Avoiding distractions during work, distraction such as telephone calls, visitors and so on.

In other words, making life wieldy,organized and systematic. This is needed most particularly in the fast movinglife in modern times. With time management, apart from averting stress and tension,life could be made peaceful and enjoyable.

Organizational Strategies inpreventing and minimizing Employee Stress.

The following are some of the strategieswhich management can adopt to reduce employee stress;

1. Building good relationships amongthe people in the entire enterprise: Top management can help to build goodrelations between employees by encouraging certain behaviors in the context of work.These include friendliness , concern for each other’s welfare , belief in jointefforts or team spirit , giving and receiving help as normal practice and  not in the sense of exchanging favors orobliging and being obliged , shared understanding of work-related,organizational and employee  matters ,sense of partnership in running enterprise and certain degree of informalityand personal touch in relationships at all levels . Management should  also ensure that physical conditions of thework are normal , that there are rules governing workloads and clear cut operational rules and goodcommunication .In addition to providing elbow room for the employees and theirinvolvement in making decisions that affect them and their work,  there should be definite rules inadministering salary and other benefits to employee such that there is equityin wage and salary administration .

2. Grievance Handling: Employee experience stress, whentheir grievances are allowed to accumulate without timely redressal. Topmanagement should institute a grievance machinery for quick and fair disposalof grievances .This includes introducing a democratic organizational climate,encouraging employees to voice their legitimate grievances with their immediatesuperiors and making superiors to respond to the grievances promptly andfollowing the law of natural justice. Employee attitudes towards managementdoes not solely depend upon  how fair arethe decisions , but also upon  whetherthose decisions get implemented  withoutdelay. Top management should be pro-active in this regard rather than reactive.

3. Employee Counseling: Listening  with empathy i.e.  putting oneself in  the position of others, and solving employeeproblems and grievances  sincerely ,giving them friendly advice and guidance in sorting out problems and reassuring their abilities in solving theirproblems will go a long way to keep them free from stress.

In conclusion, let me reiterate thetheme of this article. It defines the nature of stress, the debilitatingeffects it has on individual, family, enterprise and community, variousstrategies in preventing and /or minimizing stress and the nature of mentalstate which is stress free. The information given in this paper should helpmodern man to fight stress and lead a life of peace and enduring happiness.