March 23: What’s the Spiritual Season? Annunciation, Zarathustra and beyond

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(March 23 to 29, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

The official start of spring may be behind us, but that’s no reason to stop celebrating the joy of new life! Millions of people around the world continue to greet the season this week with holidays centered around new beginnings.

    Christians are deep into Lent
– heading toward Palm Sunday and Easter in April – but many Christians set aside a day this week, nonetheless, to recognize an event of great joy.
    The annunciation of what many Christians call “Mother of God,” or “Most-Holy Theotokos,” is celebrated on Wednesday by Orthodox Christians. Exactly nine months before Christmas, both the Virgin Mary and the divine message delivered to her are celebrated. When the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive Jesus, Orthodox Christians hold that two things occurred: First, that God chose to come in flesh for the salvation of the world; and second, that Mary willingly agreed to do what God had asked of her.
    The Feast of the Most-Holy Theotokos is a day of happiness and gratitude, and during this time Lenten fasts are lessened. It’s fine to eat fish! In Greece, many make a pilgrimage to the Church of Evangelistria on the island of Tinos. This church holds what is known as the miraculous healing icon of Theotokos, and this icon is carried through town in a procession on this day.

    Orthodox Christians aren’t the only ones to celebrate on Wednesday; Catholics and many other Western Christians observe the Feast of the Annunciation. Although Western and Eastern Christians disagree on the precise location where this announcement took place, both agree on its core message.

    Residents of the state of Maryland have a different, patriotic reason to feast in thanksgiving on Wednesday: In 1634, approximately 140 settlers landed on a Maryland shoreline. For their safe journey, they held a day of thanksgiving, celebrated on March 25 as Maryland Day. The spiritual aspirations of these travelers were conveyed in the names of their ships: the Ark and the Dove.

    The birthday of Zarathustra, Zoroastrian founder and prophet
who was born in the last millennium B.C., falls on Thursday, according to the Fasli (seasonal) calendar. Marked as one of the most important days of the year, Zoroastrians and Parsis pray in fire temples and feast in honor of this prophet on Khordad Sal. (That’s Zarathustra teaching in the top illustration today.)
    In addition to his central role in Zoroastrian tradition, elements of Zarathustra’s philosophy influence other religions and philosophical traditions as well. Baha’is and branches of some other faiths as well consider Zarathustra to have been a wise prophet.
    Themes of Zarathustra’s philosophy – including truth, life and free will – have been reflected upon through the centuries, including in Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” Nietzsche’s book was later used as inspiration for Richard Strauss’ musical piece, “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” Zarathustra’s influence kept rolling into the 1960s as Stanley Kubrick chose the opening from “Also Sprach Zarathustra” for his film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
    For fun facts from the Warner Brothers Studios on “2001: A Space Odyssey,” visit this Warner Brothers site.

    Millions of Hindus in southwestern India – particularly the Maharashtrians and Hindu Konkanis – mark a new year on March 27 with Gudi Padwa
. Because so much of Indian history and civilization down through the millennia has rested upon its agricultural bounty, this new year is marked at the beginning of a new harvest. Flags often are hung from household windows or inside homes, traditionally made of a brightly-colored cloth tied to the tip of a long bamboo cane, and then adorned with neem leaves, a twig of mango leaves and red flowers. Exquisite, intricate designs known as rangolis are drawn on many surfaces with ground powder or natural pastes.
    Do your kids love art? Encourage them to make their own rangolis via this Web site based in the UK.

    Thank you! to reader Padma Kuppa alerted us that “Gudi Padwa is also Ugadi, the Telugu new year. There are many people in the U.S. who are Telugu-speaking, me included, especially in the IT world. The beauty of Ugadi, which is also celebrated by people who speak Kannada, for me has beent he making and eating of pacchadi (Telugu for chutney). It’s a chutney that has:
Neem Buds/Flowers for bitterness
Raw Mango for tang
Tamarind Juice for sourness
Green Chilli/Pepper for heat
Jaggery for sweetness
Pinch of Salt for saltiness

    The mixture symbolizes the fact that life is a mixture of different experiences (sadness, happiness, anger, fear, disgust, surprise), which should be accepted together and with equanimity.

    Many Hindus identify the beginning of
Ramayana Week on Friday, and a great number choose to fast during the nine days preceding the birthday of Lord Rama. It is common practice to read the entire Ramayana, an ancient epic that regales the life of Lord Rama and his wife with teachings placed intermittently. Rama is seen as a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu and a prince known for his great virtue.

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