Saturday, February 11, 2012

Maha Shivarathri - 20-Feb-2012

 

 

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"Maha-Sivaratri" is a Hindu festival observed on the night of the four­teenth day of the dark half in the month of 'Magha', in Tamil 'Maasi', corresponding to the English months 'February—March', in honour of Siva, one of the Hindu Trinity, representing the destructive aspect in the universe.Though generally, the night time is considered sacred and suitable for the worship of the feminine aspect of' the deity and the day time for that of' the masculine, yet on this particular occasion Siva is worshipped during the night time, and as a matter of fact, it is specially enjoined to be observed then. The observance of the Vratha is believed to secure for the devotee immunity from the eftects of sin committed either wittingly or unwittingly. The night is divided into four quarters, each quarter going by the name of a Jama called also Yama and pious people keep awake during every one of it , worshipping Iswara.

It is said that the whole world was under destruction once and the Goddess Parvati worshipped her husband Siva then and prayed to him that the Jivas (living souls) remaining in space like particles of gold dust in a lump of wax during that long period of pralaya (deluge) night, should, when they became active once again and are in the enjoy­ment of their short day and night, have his blessings if they but worshipped him just as she did then, and her prayer was accordingly granted. The night fixed for the worship of Iswara by mortals by Parvati was named Maha-Sivaratri or the great night of Siva, since pralaya is brought about by him and hence the period is really his night from the great night or pralaya which was the cause for the origin of this Sivaratri.

The people who observe this Sivaratri- Vratha take only single meal during the day previous to the Vratha day and sleep in clean place during the night. In the morning of the Vratha day they take a bath in the waters of a sacred river, and then go to witness the divine worship in a Siva temple, and at night offer worship to Siva during every one of the four Yamams. Night long vigil on Sivaratri day,watching the sacred ablutions of Siva Linga at the temple,is the core of the Sivaratri festival.The Rudra Japa Abhisheka of Siva Linga resounds the multifacted glory of Lord Siva,who is also called Asutosh or One who is easily pleased by copius ablutions with water, the cheapest available commodity.We should remember that water in essence is Prana Sakti or life force. Such an observance of Siva Ratri will really bestow on the devotee the greatest grace of Lord Siva, the auspicious knowledge of Atma Jnana. Besides the devotee is also blessed with material prosperity the items of which are beautifully listed in the ChamakaMantra uttered on this occasion.

There is also a myth emphasizing the importance of the worship of Siva during the Sivaratri night and it is in brief as follows :

Once there was a hunter, and he one day went into the forest to procure meat for his family by hunting some animal. He wandered up and down in the forest from morning till night in search of game but was unable to shoot any. At last, when night overtook him, he climbed up a Bael tree to escape from a wild animal that was pursuing him, being roused from its lair by the hunter. The animal was lying down at the foot of the tree quite certain that the man would fall down either from sleep or from exhaustion, and that he might eat him. The hunter, exhausted as he was from his exertions and hunger, wished to scare away the animal by throwing handful of bael leaves. These leaves dripping with water on account of the recent shower, fell on a Siva-Lingam that was near. The night happened to be the Maha-Sivaratri night. He had fasted during the whole day since he could not find anything to eat. The drenching rain constituted a bath and his action of throwing the bael leaves on the Siva-Lingam, the wor­ship of Siva on the Sivaratri night. Though his actions were not intentional to worship Siva, yet he is said to have gained heaven as he had observed the Sivaratri - Vratha unwittingly.

The basic principle underlying the observance of the Maha-Sivaratri Vratha appears to be to emphasize the fact that death is sure to follow birth, night is sure to follow day,Pralaya, active cosmic life and so on, and consequently people should always bear in mind while enjoying the one its opposite and regulate their life accordingly. They should not be elated at success nor should they allow themselves to be carried away by despair at failures but always have trust in God and worship him.

Origin of Shivratri:

According to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified as it could destroy the entire world. When they ran to Shiva for help, he in order to protect the world, drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as 'Nilkantha', the blue-throated one. Shivratri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world.

Shivratri is considered especially auspicious for women. Married women pray for the well being of their husbands and sons, while unmarried women pray for an ideal husband like Shiva, who is the spouse of Kali, Parvati and Durga. But generally it is believed that anyone who utters the name of Shiva during Shivratri with pure devotion is freed from all sins. He or she reaches the abode of Shiva and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death.

Maha Mrityunjay Mantra

One of the ancient Sanskrit mantras, Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra is a verse of Yajurveda. It is the great death-conquering mantra, which is popularly referred to as Tryambakam Mantra, as it is identified with the three-eyed Hindu deity - Lord Shiva. The Mantra has many names and forms. It is sometimes called the Rudra Mantra, with reference to the furious face of Lord Shiva. On the other hand, when it is called the Tryambakam Mantra, then it is referred to the alluding three eyes of Lord Shiva. When it comes to life, it is Mrityunjaya Mantra is called the Mrita-Sanjivini Mantra.

Mrityunjaya Mantra holds the highest place among the Sanskrit mantras used for meditation. The recital of Mrityunjaya Mantra is beneficial for the body and soul in many ways. According to Yajurveda, if the mantra is chanted with immense concentration and devotion, then it purifies the karmas of the soul. Mental, emotional and physical health can be improvised by the regular chanting of Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra. In the following lines, we have provided the Mrityunjaya Mantra.

Mrityunjaya Mantra

Om Tryambakam Yajamahe

Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam

Urvarukamiva Bandhanan

Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat

English Translation

"OM. We worship and adore you, O three-eyed one, O Shiva. You are sweet gladness, the fragrance of life, who nourishes us, restores our health, and causes us to thrive. As, in due time, the stem of the cucumber weakens, and the gourd is freed from the vine, so free us from attachment and death, and do not withhold immortality." - by Arthur Berriedale Keith

Monday, February 6, 2012

The End of Health Insurance Companies

 

By EZEKIEL J. EMANUEL and JEFFREY B. LIEBMAN

Health care reform, Health insurance, Medicine and Health

Here’s a bold prediction for the new year. By 2020, the American health insurance industry will be extinct. Insurance companies will be replaced by accountable care organizations — groups of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers who come together to provide the full range of medical care for patients.

Already, most insurance companies barely function as insurers. Most non-elderly Americans — or 60 percent of Americans with employer-provided health insurance — work for companies that are self-insured. In these cases it is the employer, not the insurance company, that assumes most of the risk of paying for the medical care of employees and their families. All that insurance companies do is process billing claims.

For individuals and small businesses, health insurance companies usually do provide insurance; they take a premium and assume financial responsibility for paying the bills. But the amount of risk sharing that is accomplished is limited because the insurers charge premiums that vary, depending on the health of an individual or a group of employees, and use their data and market power to identify healthy people to cover and unhealthy people to exclude from coverage. (The health care law’s total ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions will begin in 2014.)

A new system is on its way, one that will make insurance companies unnecessary.

Many health insurance companies also impose barriers — like requiring prior authorization for tests and treatments and denying payment for covered services, which forces patients to appeal — to discourage patients from using the medical services for which they are insured and to attempt to avoid paying for those services. While these barriers can reduce waste by preventing unnecessary care, they can also discourage patients from receiving care they need, as well as impose administrative burdens on doctors and patients.

But thanks to the accountable care organizations provided for by the health care reform act, a new system is on its way, one that will make insurance companies unnecessary. Accountable care organizations will increase coordination of patient’s care and shift the focus of medicine away from treating sickness and toward keeping people healthy.

Because most physicians and hospitals today are paid on a fee-for-service basis, medical care is organized around treating a specific episode of illness rather than the whole patient. This system encourages overtreatment and leads to mistakes and miscommunication when patients are sent between their primary care doctors, specialists and hospitals. Indeed, under today’s payment system, investments in providing better care are doubly penalized. If a hospital hires a nurse to follow up with patients after they are discharged in order to reduce readmissions — for example, to help patients with diabetes improve blood sugar control — it must pay for the nurse, which is typically not reimbursed by insurance companies or Medicare, and it loses revenue by preventing the readmission.

In contrast, accountable care organizations will typically be paid a fixed amount per patient, along with bonuses for achieving quality targets. The organizations will make money by keeping their patients healthy and out of the hospital and by avoiding unnecessary tests, drugs and procedures. Thus, they will actually have a financial incentive to hire that nurse for follow-ups.

In addition to providing better and more efficient care, A.C.O.’s will also make health insurers superfluous. Because they will each be responsible for a large group of patients (typically more than 15,000), they will pool the risk of patients who have higher-than-average costs with those with lower costs. And with the end of fee-for-service payments, insurance companies will no longer be needed to handle complicated billing and claims processing, nor will they need to be paid a fee for doing so. Payments can flow directly from an employer, Medicare or Medicaid to the accountable care organizations. A.C.O.’s will require enhanced information systems to track patients and figure out how to deliver more effective care, but this analytic capacity will be directed at improving health outcomes, not at imposing barriers to those seeking treatment.

A.C.O.’s are not simply a return to the health maintenance organizations of the 1990s. Although in both models patients are members of a provider network with a specific group of doctors and hospitals, and both are paid primarily per member rather than per procedure or test, there are big differences between them. H.M.O.’s were often large national corporations far removed from their members. In contrast, A.C.O.’s will consist of local health care providers working as a team to take care of patients who are likely to be members for years at a time. H.M.O.’s often cut costs not by keeping people healthy but by denying patients services and by forcing doctors and hospitals to take lower payments. In the 1990s, we lacked the information technology and proven models of integrated care delivery that we have now. These advances will allow A.C.O.’s to simultaneously improve health outcomes and reduce costs.

A final bonus of A.C.O.’s is that they will lead to a better form of competition in health care markets. Today, consumers have to choose among insurance plans with a bewildering array of copayments, deductibles and annual out of pocket maximums — choices that few of us are any good at making. In the A.C.O. model, consumers will choose a primary care physician and the team of doctors and hospitals that are in the same group. Choosing a doctor and provider group is a responsibility that consumers want to have and are likely to be much better at.

A few health insurers see this asteroid coming. Wellpoint, for example, bought the clinic operator CareMore for $800 million last summer to make the transition into the A.C.O. business. Others, like the Optum unit of UnitedHealth Group, are developing data analysis services to provide to future A.C.O.’s. If they don’t want to go the way of the dinosaurs, insurance companies will have to find a new business to be in, one that is useful in the new world of coordinated care.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thaipusam - தைப்பூசம் - 07-Feb-2012

 

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Thaipusam (தைப்பூசம்) is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb). It is also referred to as Thaipooyam or Thaippooyam in the Malayalam language. Pusam refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates both the birthday of Lord Murugan (also Subramaniam), the youngest son of Shiva and Parvati, and the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.

Lord Skanda (or Lord Murugan) was created during one of the battles between the Asuras and the Devas. At one point, the latter were defeated several times by the former. The Devas were unable to resist the onslaught of the Asura forces. In despair, they approached Lord Siva and entreated to give them an able leader under whose heroic leadership they might obtain victory over the Asuras. They surrendered themselves completely and prayed to Lord Siva. Siva granted their request by creating the mighty warrior, Lord Skanda, out of his own power or Achintya Shakti. He at once assumed leadership of the celestial forces, inspired them and defeated the Asura forces.

Dedicated to Lord Murugan or Kartikeya

Thaipusam is dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan, the son of Shiva and Parvati. Murugan is also known as Kartikeya, Subramaniam, Sanmukha, Shadanana, Skanda and Guha. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati presented a lance to Lord Murgan to vanquish the demon army of Tarakasura and combat their evil deeds. Therefore, Thaipusam is a celebration of the victory of good over evil.

The Kavadi

Generally, people take a vow to offer the Lord a Kavadi for the sake of tiding over a great calamity. Though this might, on the face of it, appear a little mercenary, a moment's reflection will reveal that it contains in it the seed of supreme love of God. The worldly object is achieved, no doubt, and the devotee takes the Kavadi; but after the ceremony he gets so God-intoxicated that his inner spiritual being gets awakened. This is also a method that ultimately leads to the supreme state of devotion.

The Kavadi has various shapes and sizes, from the simple shape of a hawker's storehouse (a wooden stick with two baskets at each end, slung across the shoulder) to the costly palanquin structure, profusely flower-bedecked and decoratively interwoven with peacock feathers. In all cases the Kavadi has a good many brass bells adorning it and announcing it as the Kavadi-bearer draws it along. As the Kavadi-bearer very often observes silence, the bells are the only eloquent signs of a Kavadi procession.

The two baskets hanging at each end of the Kavadi contain rice, milk or other articles that the devotee has vowed to offer the Lord. The more devout among them, and especially those who do it as a Sadhana, collect these articles by begging. They travel on foot from village to village, and beg from door to door. The villagers offer their articles directly into the basket of the Kavadi. The Kavadi-bearer continues begging until the baskets are full or the avowed quantity is reached, and then offers the Kavadi to the Lord.

Some keen devotees undertake to walk barefoot from home to one of the shrines of Lord Subramanya, bearing the Kavadi all the way and collecting materials for the offering. They have to walk a hundred miles sometimes! The people who place the articles in the baskets also receive the Lord's blessings.

The Kavadi-bearer is required to observe various rules between the time he takes up the Kavadi, and the day of the offering. He has to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the Kavadi, and at the time of offering it to the Lord. He also puts on the dress of a Pandaram, a Saivite mendicant. It consists of a saffron-coloured cloth, a conical scarlet cap, and a cane, silver-capped at both ends. Lord Siva, the Supreme Pandaram Himself, loves to wear this dress. The Pandaram lives on alms only. The bare chest of the Kavadi-bearer is covered with several rudraksha malas.

The Kavadi-bearer observes strict celibacy. Only pure, Sattwic food is taken; he abstains from all sorts of intoxicating drinks and drugs. He thinks of God all the time. Many of the Kavadi-bearers, especially those who do it as a spiritual Sadhana, impose various forms of self-torture. Some pass a sharp little spear through their tongue, which is made to protrude out of the mouth. Others may pass a spear through the cheek. This sort of piercing is done in other parts of the body also. The bearer does not shave; he grows a beard. He eats only once a day. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheek reminds him of the Lord constantly. It also prevents him from speaking. It gives him great power of endurance.

The Kavadi-bearer enjoys a high state of religious fervour. He dances in ecstasy. His very appearance is awe-inspiring; there is divine radiance on his face. Devotees often experience the state of feeling united with the Lord. Sometimes the Lord enters them and possesses them for some time.

How to Celebrate Thaipusam

On the Thaipusam day, most devotees of Lord Murugan offer him fruits and flowers of yellow or orange color - his favorite colors and also adorn dresses of the same color. Many devotees bear milk, water, fruits and floral tributes on pails hung from a yoke and carry them on their shoulders to various Murugan temples, far and near. This wooden or bamboo structure called 'Kavadi' is covered with cloth and decorated with feathers of peacock - the vehicle of Lord Murugan.

Body Piercing on Thaipusam

Many fanatical devotees go to such extent as to torture their bodies to appease the Lord. So, a major feature of Thaipusam celebrations is body piercing with hooks, skewers and small lances called 'vel'. Many of these devotees even pull chariots and heavy objects with hooks attached to their bodies. Many others pierce their tongue and cheek to impede speech and thereby attain full concentration on the Lord. Most devotees enter into a trance during such piercing due to the incessant drumming and chanting of "vel vel shakti vel."

Murugam songs –remix:

http://www.tamilfms.com/2011/07/murugan-devotional-songs-thaipusam.html

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