Thiruvannamallai, 3 hours from Chennai:
Its a bright sunny morning, the air fresh as ever as i walked up the stairs to a wayside Shiva shrine along Girivalam. My thoughts entertain me as i ascend up the steps looking at all the other people going about their business. A deep breath, wondering what the gods have in store for me today, still choosing to believe that i am the One, God's favourite child the world around me just does not seem to see it.
This is a small temple located on the Girivalam road dotted with saffron clad sanyasas. a pretty picture actually, bringing in a feeling that there is more to life than what really meets our eye. this temple hosts a Shiva linga, well decorated and silent, with oil lamps lighting up the little room it is placed in. i walked up the steps into the small chamber before the main sanctum sanctorum and closed my eyes while the priest recited the pearls of sanskrit words falling out with his well modulated breath, the sound reverberating within the inner walls of the room enhancing the ambience, his voice still ringing in my mind well after his prayers are through.
I opened my eyes to see the beauty of the linga as the flames danced in front of it revealing every aspect of its beauty in the light. He walked out and showed us the brass plate as we received the holy flames and took the holy ash, a blessing of Lord Shiva. I sat at the temple a good while, observing the puja in action, the decorations and all the little things scattered on the linga pitha.
Rudraksha beads lay scattered along the rim of the linga pitha, while sets of rudhrakha necklaces crown the linga, alternating with jasmine flowers and vilvam leaves. The vertical center of the linga is decorated with vermillion and turmeric paste enhancing itself in a silver plated background. Straight down in front of it lay few fruits all looking pretty similar. I asked in curiosity, to know that lord Shiva is associated strictly with Vilvam. After a long discussion on Shiva, temples, pujas, philosophy, life, faith, truth, action, karma, he finally gave me a Vilvam fruit as part and parcel of a larger paraphernalia to keep with me.
There on started my journey, to know Vilvam. It just didnt stop with being a fruit. it took on a position far superior that i tended to respect its very presence in my life. A support of sorts, that took away all the "dristy" or evil eyes from me. I sat every day watching it, wondering when it would get spoilt, if it ever would. I assumed it to be like any other fruit, a life, short life...before it got rotten. But strangely as he had rightly said, Vilvam never got spoilt.
Day after day, i watched, prayed and watched Vilvam, it turnes shades. It was a bright green when it showed up, looking fresh as ever. Now it had taken on a faint brown overcoat, yet not spoilt. It changes color, color that indicated how my life had gone by, it felt like i was surrounded by evil eyes all the time. It cleansed me, of all the gore in my life, as it turned brown every minute. My heart began to melt, watching it take on the load, that i had put myself through so thoughtlessly. Slowly i began to notice a thin coat of fungus form along its head. In desperation i gave it a coat of turmeric thinking Vilvam would not survive the attack. Interestingly Vilvam stayed on strong, brown with all my sins, but rid off the fungus that had managed to take root on its surface.
I still look at it every day, admiring the vermillion on its brow as i dress it, collared in fresh jasmine flowers. I walked to the shop to buy fresh flowers asking the flower seller which flowers were the best for Shiva puja. She was so confident "Shivan ku mallipuu than poduva, Vilvam venuma" (they put only jasmine flowers for Lord Shiva, would you like some Vilvam). I stopped to think. this lady is illiterate to the best of my knowledge, yet she knows a lot more than i do living in the same place. I chose not to take my faith for granted, infact question it and find out. What good use is my education if i am not taught every aspect of my life, religion and ritual included.
Maybe Vilvam is there for me in more ways than one. I just dont know it...