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5.30.2005

The seed of potency, the grid of power.

This is the journey of the seeker, the seeker in me. I have been going from pillar to post, trying to dig up my roots, understand my past, figure out "ME" the person, and answer the deep restlessness within my very being.

Its a journey that is still on, going places, teaching me things i just dreamt of and never even thought it would come true as a burning inner desire. I have been doing television serials with the UGC, which forced me to prepare and therefore read up. These things brought me to the books. I studied for a while, for long hours on end to find a few strange discoveries.

The first for me to stumble over was the ground plan of the Elephanta caves. Stangely interesting, its a ground plan, following the buddhist cave temples at ajanta, but very strictly a yantra in design. The pillared hall forms the various points within the yantra, while the Shiva shrine and the Trimurti take up the cardinal points adding to the growing enigma that surrounds these caves.



Moving on, shaken by the discovery a little, i had to prepare for Khajuraho temples as well. I was not too keen on these Chandela temples for their well sold out erotic sculptures, but the tantric practices that surrounded them intrigued me. Shrines dedicated to the "chausat(64) yoginis" added to the haze surrounding the mother goddess cult. This turned into a fury for information as the under currents of this mother goddess cult were felt all around shiva shrines. If not for yoginis one is bound to find the sapta matrikas around shiva shrines.

Khajuraho temples ended up being more breath taking than mere erotica. After going through Devangana Desai's book on Khajuraho, it was a complete eye opener that the erotic images that arouse the delight of the non-initiated, are actually yantras or hidden geometrical patterns that protect the temples. These are grosely misunderstood to have remote connections with the kama sutra or the like. I could have shouted out to the world that moment! What they actually indicate are the various points on the composition of the erotic sculpture that behave as points on the yantras that guard the temples from evil spirits. The interesting part is that the non-initiated will never know which erotic sculpture is a yantra and which sculpture joins the batch-processing lot.



Hmm... so we close in on these mysterious diagrams which get yelled out in all these ancient shrines. Further reading confirmed that all ancient temples kept yantras in the central sanctum sanctorum of the temples dedicated to the divinity being housed there and a ritual is performed with respect to the ruling king's "gotram" and "nakshatram". After this, interestingly, his angula or finger is used as the basic system of measurement for the temple construction. (will give more dope on that in another post).

But well lets come back to these geometrical patterns. A diagram, housing a syllable, sounds like nothing to the un-initiated but means a whole new world to someone well versed with it, or trying to know it at least. A single bija mantra at the bindu or center, and that is the summary of potency well beyond our imagination. Its a crazy world beyond logic as we understand it. It could be chance, it could be an equation of which i still have not managed to understand anything, but i know it certainly works.

Yantras are to be understood, to be felt, to be respected and worshipped. They are not toys for a greater future, with an easier life, more wealth, better health etc. Yes, those things will come in, but its interesting to see how the recital of a mantra, sitting on a grass mat, with a yantra in a brass plate with a few offerings and an oil lamp can make all the difference. It requires persistence and complete dedication.

Truely amazing. I can tell you this much, most people stop with faith to a certain extent, but getting into the depths of it is a challenge. Its about putting yourself on the line to find out and see the result which might not necessarily be as expected, but is an enlightenment anyway. Its about risk, into the unknown world, where things can go really well or drastically wrong and all that you cling onto is love and faith. Yantras wake you out of mundane reality, uplift you from a suffering called life and make you look at problems as if they are nothing.

Its a world which you enter just once and never leave. Its what lies just beyond human ignorance.

5.26.2005

Kalahasti - the land where Vayu is felt

Kalahasti, 43 kms from Thirupati: Abode of Shiva

The Lord has strange ways of displaying his presence, here he does it with wind. I will not go into the depths of what Kalahasti is about for i didnt completely understand it to my own satisfaction. I used to believe it was a Linga I saw back in there, now it has additions when I went up close. A spider, an elephant and a snake make up the Linga.



View Location Map of Vayu Linga at Kalahasti

There is a difference though, the place has power, a strange magnetic attraction which has succeeded in engraving that image in my mind for good. A simple but potent garbha griha, its something i had always dreamt of... the perfect image of the central shrine of a potent ambiguous cult, with the cult icon silhouetted against the oil lamps, with the air smelling of camphor. The minor snake elements just intrigue me towards the supporting serpent cults. There is a strong undercurrent of potency and ambiguity that surrounds this place, giving a feeling of desperation to want to know and so complicating that it leaves you in a haze.

Kalahasti is a place reaking in corruption like all other south indian temples. The temple priests are lethargic as hell and doing an "archanai" can be the most painful task. They ask you to put money into the brass plate for every move of their finger. Or worse still they dont even go up to the deity to do the arthi, they stop at the door step. If that was not all there are electric lights in all the garbha grihas. These priests are pretty shameless and it can end up in a depressnig experience. So lets forget about that.

Coming back to the inner sanctum sanctorum of Kalahasti, somethings have remained unchanged. When i walked into the mandapa the ambience quite got me. The air is cool (because of the air coolers) and as you are taken through the endless queues (another sign of corruption and population control),you go right round along the path of circum-ambulation. The exterior walls depict dakshinamurti, lingodbhava murty and someone who is a trimurti look alike. the facade is silver plated and when you look inside, its dark and just oil lamps glow in there revealing the potent presence inside. There you see, clearly the presence of the vayu linga, the flames of the oil lamp dancing in a very channelised wind that seems to be present inside the garbha griha and doesnt shake any other flame in there.

The walls are white, rocky and all encompassing, the floor shimmers in the lamp light, the cult icon, unlike other lingas is vertically long and dressed in gold which displays various elements in the dim light. This sits on a yoni pitha, but the lighting inside just melts anyone's heart. I felt drawn towards it, like nothing else mattered, drawn so close that the world looked small... that problems disappeared, they simply didnt matter anymore... they were redundant in front of what stood ahead of me. I could have left my soul back there, never to return, to teach me all that it hid from my naked eyes, to elevate me away from my mundane existance...

It brings me back to Shiva, silent, potent, who waits for you to accept him. Feared for no reason at all. I walked out in a trance, for what had just happened was beyond my imagination. I was told to come here, to receive thirtham, during the hours of the afternoon and sure enough I had driven down from chennai to get there on time. I was told to light the lamp at the gaja stambha and I had already done so, but I was nervous about the thirtham. I had taken the general queue, not paid a penny for the darshan and now I stood at the entrance of the garbha griha. I had walked in promptly only to be stopped by two security guards, so i stepped back. I stared inside and the sight just over whelmed me.

For some strange reason, the guards told me to go back in... right inside (upto the antarala or vestibule that seperates the inner most sanctum sanctorum from the mandapa outside). I couldnt believe my ears. I was told to enter the 500 buck queue for paying nothing at all. I gasped, and walked in savouring every moment I had in there, I couldnt think, I just observed the room and thanked god for granting me this view - Up Close.. real Up Close. When I went closer, the priest gave me the most sort after thirtham, I savoured the mouthful as it trickled down my hand. I felt so small and so blessed, it was like the lord has invited me inside himself. I walked out silent, smiling, shell shocked, shaken, blessed, protected, accepted, enlightened.. leaving my melting heart back in there for good.

5.24.2005

A Glimpse of the Lord - Govinda Gooooovinda!

Tirupati: This is the richest temple in the Indian subcontinent, and truly, you know it when you are there. Getting a glimpse of Lord Venkateshwara at this temple is not easy and it calls for immense faith to get that rare glimpse.

People across the country travel miles to get here, wait endless days for accommodation and boarding till that final glimpse is achieved. It’s a long trek to paradise to see Lord Venkateshwara who silently waits testing the devotee in every step he takes.



Getting to Thirupati, the harder way is a long drawn process. The shortest entitles you to be either a politician or the like to get the "instant glimpse" but if you are common man, guess you struggle harder. People come to thirupati from all walks of life. It depends on how rich you are and how much you are willing to blow up for an easier darshan, as the lord waits there patiently for your arrival. You can zoom up crossing the seven hills by car or bus taking 45 minutes to get there, make sure you start the climb before 10 pm, they shut the entrance after that. Or you decide to walk the stretch on seven hills in four hours with occasional breaks.

Lets take the walk up with Srinivasan, an ardent devotee of the Lord. The first is a climb, where flights of steps staring at Srinivasan as he makes a slow trek up to kali gopuram (the glowing gopuram you see from a distance indicating the hill after sunset. It has nothing to do with goddess Kali). These are steep flight of steps testing him as he puffs his way up looking up every time to see the never-ending steps leading to the top, while the hillside bakes in the sunlight. Along the way as he is taken by fatigue, he can see that the devotion of the people is etched into the stone steps. Fresh coats of turmeric and vermilion adorn these steps screaming out the back pain of all the aspirants who tried to make it up the hill, bending over to add their bit, saying "Govinda Gooooovinda" along the way.

The echoes of this sacred name "Govinda Gooooovinda", brings in the inspiration to reach the top of the first hill. People yell out the Lords name as they ascend up the hill, taking occasional breaks to catch their breath. Once Srinivasan reaches the top of the first hill, there are enough refreshments to take him up the climb. Well at least he has now covered the first climb.

Now it gets a shade easier. The walk along the hillside displays deer sanctuaries; vegetation and forests with wild life add ons. Now the crossing of 7 hills is more like a cruise as the maximum height of a flight of steps is about 7 to 8 at best, still bright with the glowing fresh coat of vermilion on turmeric paste. People chat along the way, families make friends with other families, people tend to know each other, bonding and talking about themselves or the divinity and spiritualism. They make the climb slightly more entertaining with occasional outbursts of "Govinda Gooooovinda" along the way, making it even more pleasurable spiritually as every one along the stretch shouts along adding to the common community spirit, enhancing the feeling of devotion. Srinivasan adds his bit of "Govinda Gooooovinda" as he continues his climb up the hills.

This is a two-way passage, which also has people coming down the hill, most often tonsured as they have offered their hair to the Lord. Tonsured heads are easy to find along this stretch, it’s not for style, its sacrifice. As the hours crawl by and even the conversation take a toll on the mind, Srinivasan now walks in silence thinking to himself... about life, family, god, spiritualism, or what ever is lined up to do when he goes back home with occasional "Govinda Gooooovinda" echoing along the way. There is a point when the walk up meets the road to drive up.

This is a beautiful stretch along a now lonely hillside, with occasional vehicles zooming up the steep slope along the cliffside. This stretch has a few interesting things to offer. Two places along the cliff for a view of the valley below, which Srinivasan looks over to get a fair idea of the height he is at which until now was not visible. Steep cliffs, drenched in monsoon clouds at the right time of the year, displaying beautiful waterfalls in the very lap of nature. Among the wet rocky cliff sides is a shrine of Ganesha,carved into the cliff. Srinivasan stops by to pay his respects to the deity and carries on with his walk up. The walk goes on, it bridges the way from one hill to another and finally leads Srinivasan to the last climb. This is the last and final climb up, steep, intimidating and exhaustive along a steep cliff edge, all for that one glimpse of the Lord. Oh! What a beautiful sight.

Once on the top, it doesn't feel like Srinivasan climbed the hill at all. It feels like flat ground, with Lodges and hotels in all shapes and sizes advertising themselves to Srinivasan to take refuge and rest his tired feet, and the worst - people, people, people everywhere. It feels like the entire Indian population is parked here. Having tested his capacity to walk up seven hills and walk to the temple is not the end of the test, what lies ahead is even tougher. The three-hour wait, two if he is lucky, one if he really pays his way through, it’s no joke. Most people who show up here are very aware of this fact.

Srinivasan now finds himself waiting in claustrophobic passages, getting narrower by the minute, there is no chance of going to the loo if he gets into these queues, and he has to wait for hours for the queues to move. It feels like animals in cages and the long winding passages are to be seen to be believed. Yet the devotion is so strong that Srinivasan will wait for hours to see that one glimpse of God.

Along these long narrow passages are inscriptions along the stonewalls, relating to the time of Krishnadevaraya, of the Vijayanagar empire. Finally the crowd heads towards the shrine and Srinivasan moves frantically with it in anticipation of that one glimpse. For that one glimpse, he has traveled so long, for that one glimpse that he has longed for, has dreamt of in his sleep for, has been restless about and has come to Tirupati to fulfill this one desire, that glimpse! That one glimpse he longs for, which attracts a million Indians to this temple every year. He enters craning his neck to see the Lord standing in silence at the far end of the inner sanctum.

Finally the moment comes, when Srinivasan is now nearing the most wanted place to see the Lord completely, eye to eye, standing right in front of the deity, its this moment when he thinks about all that he did to see this one glimpse of The Lord, the restlessness, those claustrophobic queues and waiting for hours in dingy rooms to get this one glimpse, that long walk and those miserable energy sapping climbs to see this one glimpse, seems to have finally paid off. Finally the crowd moves in, the sound of "govinda goooovinda" fill the air which has "om namah narayanaya" humming in the background, oh the air, the smell of incense and finally the last walk into the sanctum.

Srinivasan enters, being pushed through the crowd, as if in a trance, speechless with a blank mind forgetting his entire wish lists when he comes face to face with the Lord. Its the moment of that one last glimpse, which he is so over whelmed with that he bows to the Lord in complete humility and prays for those few seconds he has been granted - with Eyes Shut!!!

5.17.2005

A wholesome brahmin meal!

Declared as the most hygienic meal in the world, this is a spread to be seen, tasted and enjoyed. Authentically speaking, the dishes are served in a banana leaf, which is cut and washed and laid out in a line, narrow side to the left of the person. All the family members sit on the floor and get served. Big leaves for the male adults, small leaves for the children, women eat later - standard practise! (interestingly the men dont even bother to ask if the women had a filling meal.)

A typical practise is to start serving with the payasam(or sweet) at the bottom right of the leaf. Next to follow is the main course. No body starts the meal before the side dishes are served first. This would include two curries, typically beans in coconut, and dry potato if you got lucky, typically rationed...all good things are rationed. Along with it is "pollangai kuutu" which has turned yellow showing the turmeric presense in it. A pickle is a must and so is the apalam/ papadam(the greatest invention of man, something that is jealously guarded and unfortunately rationed - i never understood that though). These kuutus and curries are assigned places on the banana leaf. The occupy the upper section of the leaf beyond the midriff away from you. The dal, of course is at the bottom right next to the payasam. By now the payasam would be meandering to the center of the leaf or probably out, so your fight to keep the food within the boundaries of the leaf has begun. Ha! wait till the rasam comes!!!

Once these are served, the big guys show up, hot steaming rice served from a plate and not from a vessel, and the ghee and the sambar! A few faces would fall if what fell out with the sambar were healthy drumsticks laughing at you on the descent to the leaf when you hoped to see small onions (man nothing like onion sambar with potato and apalam). The ritual begins, the older respected men folk pick up their steel tumblers and perform a small ritual, i would assume was offering the food to the Gods, who by now would have wondered whether the menu was all that great! ;)

This ritual (if i remember seeing it right) entails the person to put some water into his right palm, circle it around the banana leaf thrice, guiding the right hand with the left, the ring finger of which touches the elbow of the right hand along the way, dropping water into the kuutu, mumbling something(which i cant remember) and finally consuming what ever is left of it and sprinkling the remaining over their heads. there is a way of holding the palm... well what ever.. we discriminated women never got to learn it...will ask dad and come back.

Well by now, the meal begins, the payasam goes in first, then the dal gets mixed with the rice which now is soaked in sambar and all you can see is a bunch of drumsticks partying above it. They are promptly picked and left to the top right corner of the leaf, to be dealt with later. Why not consume it right away? well there is a reason!! if you consume any thing you dont like, you get served again and the pain of consuming it the second time is a pain you just dont want to go through. The avaraikaays and the drumsticks belong to the category of perennial vegetables in the leaf that just dont go down your throat till the end of the meal - hence the party!

The apalams and the potatoes invariably get over and a second helping is doubtful, increasing your psychological state that your hunger has just not died. This is a problem in brahmin households where we kids are always hungry because the good food is never enough while the brinjals and the less interesting vegetables always seem to come in for even a third helping. Post sambar rice, is rasam! A watery soup delicious to taste but hard to handle on a banana leaf if you are not accustomed to it. Its not a simple meandering stream in your leaf, its a flood!

Its an art to lift off watery soups with rice vigorously off your plate and not have it dripping along the way. Of course you would not want to see a few adults almost lick up to the end of the palms to stop the rasam from flowing down to their elbows. Its a sight!!! When you think the war with liquids is over in comes the second round of payasam which is served after the first two courses just before the grand finale - curd rice. The entry of curd rice into your leaf indicates you are at the end of your meal. Curd is an amazing creation and with rice its just simply out of the world. Its one of the coolest, simplest most healthy foods. Curd declares closure of the meal, by now all those drumsticks and kuutus have to get cleared if not done already. Every thing gets cleared leaving the leaf empty for the cows.

Meanwhile, handling boring veggies and fat drumsticks is an art. Either you have them to the end, to avoid being served again, which is the case when a painful uncle decides to chew your happiness and says in loud heehaws "hey serve her some more drumstick..." or the ever so generous women of the house decide to feed you well with the wrong things. So how do you hide these guys when you really dont want to eat them?

There are a few prerequisites for this. To start with you need to be served in steel plates, so that you can guide the drumsticks to the dust bin and not have a health concious aunt say " hey why did you leave it, dont you like it" very emotionally that makes you squirm on the way, worse mom hears it and makes you eat it, standing where ever you are, while the other cousins laugh triumphantly on the way declaring they have completed their meal, showing fairly clean plates.

But well if you DO manage to get to the sink, you simply take the less fortunate drumsticks and tuck them into a plate which was ideally used by another cousin so that he gets caught and you dont. Dont put in adult plates, they normally chew the drumstick so bad that you feel sad... "party is over guys", for what remains of the drumstick is a sad fibrous mass, from which every shred of life has been sucked out by extremely powerful set of teeth. They leave nothing to doubt. The drumsticks are now truly dead. If you dont get another plate to tuck the drumstick into, then put it in the dustbin, but be careful, hide it under something, for example, mango skin cleaned out, or an aavin/heritage milk packet, or coconut fibre which is on the top layer of the dustbin so that the wastage is not clearly visible. If it is there is a cry from the kitchen, "who wasted the drumstick" and all the kids end up pointing to each other. Its judgement time and all of us chose to avoid the confrontation.

Finishing a less interesting meal, is a task, where you psychologically read the mind of the elderly lady serving so that you dont call attention to yourself and hence dont have more drumsticks falling into your banana leaf. It used to be a lot of brain work to get those veggies into a very rebellious throat which would simply not approve of it.

And now when i look back after hostel and eating all over the place... i cant wait to just sink my teeth into drumstick and chew the last bit of life out of it!!!

I miss a truly amazing brahmin meal when i dont get one!

5.13.2005

A game of dice - dayakattai

Excuse my attempts at Tamil here but i shall try to make it sound as authentic as Iyer athu tamil.

Strategy, fun and one of the few things that really brings an iyer house hold together is the amazing game of dice. Its one of the most entertaining games i have ever played, with as much noise thrown in as linguistical enhancements to one of the ancient dialects of tamil. Yes, its entertainment for the next two hours from when the family gathers to play this deadly game of strategy, slaughter, war and victory.

Post brunch, after a filling 'sapadu'(meal) at 10.30 am, the family gathers together, mainly the men folk, the kids stricktly above the age of 4 (i guess) and of course our very famous pati(post madi business and puja) while thatha, the man of the house continues to snore in his easy chair hoping for silence. Yeah, so much for a peace in the house. haha


The number of people in the game mounts up to a good number like 12 odd people and trust me there is room for all as long as we end up in an even figure. To get this count right few strong attempts are made on the daughter in laws of the house to please join in to at least roll the brass sticks if not think strategy.

There is someone assigned to every position, two adults to think of strategy with pati in the lead, one uncle to play shakuni and invariably get those unattainable daayams (number one on the brass sticks) no matter how much you bid against it. The kids of course, being all equal get to roll the dice and hope to meet the expectations of all the adults around them. There are other beliefs too that surround this traditional game. Its normally played by the women of the house hold after the father-in-law has left and interestingly wiped off before he returns. Interestingly, the women folk take to this game more often where they send all the kids to schools, hubbys to work and sit back and play after all the house hold activities are over. My house, was a slightly diluted affair to the orthodox brahmin culture. The main players were MEN.

Daayam, or the count of 'one' on the ancient brass sticks, is your ticket to enter the game. This of course is hard to get. Its a mind set that takes a toll if the game has already begun and you still have not put your daayam, to open your innings and hence participate. It can be highly frustrating for you might just never get it till about half the game is over, your team has quite learnt to live without you but you are the irritant the other team is cashing on keeping their coins bravely on the "ambalam" or passage since they are so sure you will not be able to kill them.

The concepts pretty simple. Both teams have 6 coins each - traditionally represented by almonds, kishmish, "paaku", ground nut or the like. We move to stones, buttons, and plastic "ludo" coins when we cant lay hands on the appropriate "kaay". Kaay as they are typically called since they are the raw fruit yet to ripen which will happen only when the coin exits the board after covering the long journey back home through the "kattam" - the board.

Lots could happen along the way home, for one, your kaay can simply get killed when the opponent numbering 6 people by now, aggressively looking down into the game making calculations in not just the massacre of your single "kaay", but killing a few other less fortunate "kaays" that found themselves on the "ambalam" in the course of the game. That apart the calculations end in protecting their own kaays when they safely move them to a "malai" or home along the way. Interestingly when the opponent occupies a malai, there is no room for your coin, in short its called "malai manga".

By now the perssure is mounting furiously, while the opponent gets excess points or"pandyam" by putting - eer aaru, muu anji, iru panandu, iru daayam, naalu - translates to two sixes, three fives, two twelves, two ones and one four. Now this is a phenomenal "pandyam" where you can move any kaay anywhere, and kill any one you wish and still move your kaay to a home on the way if you got lucky. Pati is behind you with strategy that never met your eyes and when you see at least three of the opponents "kaays" go back in, to start the round again, well its a loud uproar piercing the air drowning thatha's snore into the din.

But well now, they will come back, the horror of massacre hits first, then the anger, the then aggression and the opponent comes back double, killing with a bigger blow, shooting as many kaays of your way back home as they possibly can. By now, even the most bored daughter in law sits up to view the game, the kattam, half wiped out by the deft hands that just flew across moving the coins so swift, that you dont even know what just went by. Every thing settles, the game goes on, one verses one coin - now in the ripe stage of "pazham". Killing a pazham is another thrill altogether.

The pain that the opponent need to go through to take the kaay across the kattam to bring it home without having it killed and elevating it to a pazham is a joy for anybody but him. Once the pazham has reached the ripe stage and has come home, there is the last lap.

Its a murderous position called "dokkai" where its the last step to "ripe fruit", and yet it can be killed. This hurts, being killed at this stage really hurts, and its over whelming joy for the opponent who by now are raising themselves very sure that its the end of the game. getting that single daayam, can take a minute or a century, but every one, just everyone waits for it. Its the defining moment or victory or failure, the anticipation is so high that tiffin and caapi can seriously wait.

finally the last roll of the dice, and "dddddddaaaaaaaaaaaayyyaaaaaaaaaaammmm". Six guys jump up, cant belive their eyes, jump around in ecstasy while 6 others sit silent looking into each others faces. The winning team of course takes the final pazham and consume it literally - and what a fine fruit that was!!!

The joy of having that particular kishmish/ almond/groundnut is different. It tastes as good as any fruit of victory will. Nobody even considers that the kishmish has been rolling along the floor for the last one hour, No, its the most delicious fruit one could have. This is crowned with the victory dance, the grand finale - i think its only at my house - where the team gathers, old and young, tall and short, male and female, hopping on the floor holding each others shoulders!!! And what a dance that was! you dont need to be intoxicated for this, just the trill of winning dayakattai is more than enough to send you on the high!

Great ancient game. Truely worth while.

5.11.2005

Coiled serpents on a wayside stelae

On the roads, Tamil Nadu country side: Coiled serpents on a stelae, sounds like something out of a fantasy in the middle ages. Well, not exactly, because its something you would invariably pass without taking notice of, every time you went to work.



If you looked closer, you would notice various version of coiled serpent stelae, but one of the most prominent is that of two serpents in two and half coils facing each other, housing a shiva linga in between. Maybe they are some naga cult icons under a tree, smeared with vermillion and turmeric.

Why is there so much of importance given to these icons, what do they signify and why are they all over the place? Well, someone had pointed out to me earlier that faith cannot be compared with language since its not logical. There is nothing more logical than the school of thought the surrounds these naga cult icons. Its all about energy... of course you need to believe in it.

Its a school of thought, that the energy of Shiva stays dormant as the potential energy while the mother godess represents the active kinetic energy that flows through the passages along the spinal chord. These are typically called the Nadis, you might have heard this before... but i will keep this one short. It is believed that when the female energy, also called the kundalini energy, is awakened in the aspirant, it sits up like a two and a half coiled serpent ready to rise up the nadis, crossing each chakra or energy center along the way till it finally meets the male potential energy and unites with it. This has been represented as the soma skanda panel depicting the union of shiva and parvati resulting in the birth of soma skanda.

Soma skanda is a debatable person. He could be karthikeya or a concept without a form. The idea behind soma skanda is to depict the union of the male and female energy which results in the flow of self generated amrita or soma which sustains the aspirant, hence forth eliminating his dependency on the external world around him. This subtle concept is depicted as a family panel for the understanding of the masses.



Now coming back to the cult icons, its interesting to see that this school of thought is plastered all over the place, and we simply dont seem to take notice of it. We do have the naga cults, but they were subordinate to the cult of Shiva and had a lot to do with him. The shore temple at Mahabalipuram clearly depicts cult icons of Nagas on the outer walls, resonably eroded, but clear enough to indicate the practices during the Pallava ages. This practise definitely has not died since, its very much alive getting a fresh coat of vermillion every morning, apart from flowers from passerbys who dont even knwo what its meant to depict.

Bottom line, our culture is all around us, its under the trees, in the temples, potent schools of thought scattered all around reminding us of what our forefathers have figured out well before the white man even started to think!

All we need to do is just open our eyes!

5.10.2005

The real Hinduism

The real Hinduism, is something of much debate. What is our culture, our real culture i mean. Culture is a good word, sounds great, everyone knows indian culture goes way back into several centuries, but sitting right here what do you or i know of it?

We were having a heated discussion on why women were being discriminated in temples, why women were not allowed into a few temples, whether the restrictions are male chauvinistic, or whether the rule is there with a scientific reason. Of course, the participants were two extremely opinionated women, including myself, and the discussion soared into the air, loud as ever drowning all the other conversations in the little room. Yes, no body would have seen two heated women like this in that room for a while.

We were mad, plain and simple, wondering why men got more privileges than us, just because they were born men, which honestly was not an accomplishment of their own! Why women are put down, seems to be a simple answer, they are just way way stronger in the head and sadly they themselves dont know it!

Anyway the conversation drifted into why we have good days and bad, does it have a logic at all. Why do we have this thing called rahu kalam, does it make sense, or is it plain superstition?

Well honestly, hinduism is a way of life, its not simple and its extremely potent which is why it has lasted all these centuries. It has depth, depth that we (a section of society) are unable to see and hence think its all bull shit. I dont understand when people say there is no logic, its all bogus. Its not, we are ignorant, period, and in our ignorance we end up making judgement when we are not even capable of it. Do you question language, No, you just simply learn it with all its idiosyncrasies, then why question faith??

Faith grows on you, through your life, gives you direction if you are strong and persistent enough to want it, just going to a temple is NOT good enough. You want answers... then go look for it, a Buddha did not get it easy, and neither did Christ. In fact they were sent through more grind than you think. Its simple, if you want to be God be ready to get stoned first. What a line!!

Coming back to us lesser mortals, since we are not planning to be Gods, but think its good enough to just get to understand Him/ Her/ It, let me assure you, its not an easy road and you are going to end up questioning it more than you think. Dismissing it off just becaue you do not get your answers in the next 20 minutes only goes to show how superficial you are and how much you are not willing to put in effort. If you want to know, you HAVE got to be passionate about it and dig dig dig till you think you get somewhere. End of the day, you are the loser if you dont get to know. NO body else suffers. SIMPLE.

I just know this much, real Hinduism is beyond your current way of life, you need to want to give yo materialism and greed, you need to want to be passionate with a single point focus, you need to want to control your emotions and not have them control you. You need to understand your emotions and appreciate them for what they are worth, they deliver the experience to you, they should NOT overwhelm you. if you get past all this, then you are somewhere near ready to take on the true nature of hinduism. The way of life, brings in routine and discipline to your otherwise haphazard life style. Its not simple, but well who said it was?

There is potency in this way of life and the only way to get it is to get your self neck deep in it. Next time you dont know something about Hinduism, probably you should accept your ignorance instead of ruling out the faith to be all bull shit. Remember this is one of the oldest religions, so what meets your eye is not the reality of it, its superficiality, the reality, is for you to find out.

5.05.2005

The fun in a Brahmin household.

We sat back having lunch, thinking about all the good old days when we were young, living the typical orthodox lifestyle as administered back home by Pati and Thatha (grandma and grandpa), in our good old Brahmin household.

Somethings don't change at all. I have noticed brahmins, at least the older ones or the more traditional and now i relate to them very well. The typical house, with kolam in rice powder at the door step leading the way into a reasonably dark room, with barely any furniture in it! Yes, somehow we never seem to have learned the art of interior decoration. The main living room as i would call it is probably one of the darker ones too with windows split into 4, 2 kept closed, largely painted green for some strange reason :)

The living room, sounds more exotic, but has almost no furniture except two wooden chairs and yes of course the plastic chair indicating the intrusion of modernity into our otherwise ancient backward lives. The plastic chair of course being as priced as the other chairs in the room, might be right next to the grandfather chair, which is close to being inaccessible to all except of course - grandpa. He sits there, in his mundu vesti, reading the morning newspaper, with "caapi" served when ever he asks for it, be it in the morning or with tiffin... One shelf if available in this room hosts all the objects on display, no matter how incongruous they look together.

The other rooms, remain rooms, largely nameless with papers hanging out of shelves, and of course the very famous Murugan calendar with dates gaping straight at us as Murugan continues to smile the whole year around. Its interesting to see such households can accommodate 20 people easily, the bedding kept in one room, all mattresses rolled up on a wooden bed, a single bed, maybe the only bed in the entire house :) there is an art in arranging bedding, starting from the mattresses at the bottom, neatly rolled and forming a reasonably large bulk in the center of the room. above that are stacked up a set of pillows, neatly one above three below leaving vertical room for bedsheets. various colors, various sizes, various textures line up above the pillows forming a large mass, which stares you in the face when you enter the otherwise really small room!

But of course sleeping in one of those rooms, with the fan way above making noise, a slow creek with a few cobwebs hanging off it, large wooden cupboards surrounding you, which seem to contain all the priced possessions of the household, stare down at you, lying in the center of the room sleeping blissfully. And trust me, what a sleep that is, cozy in a different sort of way, you need the noise, the wood, the partial darkness and of course the dim light streaming in through the green windows.

Somewhere in the rear end of the house straight above is the clothes line, not the general usage one but one exclusively for pati and her "madi business". this is a concept, the idea being one is completely pure when they come out of bath, in wet clothes and change into this other set that hangs down from the ceiling. they should not be touched until puja is over, and trust me this untouchability is bible! you better make sure you dont touch, lest pati gets mad at you! should that happen it means your ration of "bhakshanam" for the day is almost gone to one of your luckier uncles, who would be one of her most pampered sons!

There are those days of course when pati forgets her clothes and wants you to fetch them for her while she sticks her hand out of the bathroom door. While she waits we kids quite deftly need to pick her "bady" and underskirt off the clothes line way up near the ceiling and without touching it, carry it by the help of a long stick. Invariably there are accidents, the "bady" falls to the floor and one has to drag the stick along the "bady" on the floor trying to get it back on, finally giving up in frustration and hanging it hoping no one caught us putting it back onto the end of the stick. Slowly this highly respected piece of cloth is carted to the bathroom to now impatient hands yelling at us to hurry up!! every one moves, stick to walls, leave room for the articles to find their way through the pure air in the corridors of the house to the frantic hands still waiting to receive them. :))

The bath, well an even smaller room, with all the known containers inside, largely made of steel, brass or the like, take much of the floor, which has more craters than the moon itself. water is just about everywhere, and its hard to find a dry place to keep any clothes. The clothes hanger would be a hook or nail on the wall next to a half eaten door which barely closes the room, with as many holes in it as possible, the gaps between the wood almost increasing every minute, and the bottom half eaten by erosion? The door is held up to be locked by a single hook which threatens to give way anytime, you should see the confidence with which pati goes for bath, its unthinkable. cant believe i took bath there too!!!

Well anyway, now to the most holy section of the house, a room dedicated to the gods, ancestors, saints and anyone you want to put up on the walls. This is a room to see to believe, all the gods in teak wood frames smeared with vermilion stare down at you well just about all the time! This would include all vaishnavite human incarnations, the known swamigals in town, all forms of the mother goddess, lesser gods, greater gods everyone... and if they are really orthodox, you wouldn't miss the brass idols at the bottom with a whole new range of rule sets if there is a shaligrama in the middle of it all. This is a truly blessed household.

Last but not the least is the backyard, and the kitchen, surrounded in aromatic smells of a pure healthy brahmin meal in the making. Everything is done on the floor mostly, the cooking range being the only one on a "medai" which has two sections, the pathu and non pathu which segregates the boiled food from the unboiled, the milk and milk products given special importance. there are imaginary walls here, demarcations which define what food item can be kept where, and you are doomed if you get it wrong! i largely kept away from it.

Finally fresh air by the well in the backyard, with mango trees and potted tulsi maram(plant) and clothes of all twenty people lined up to dry on the general clothes line! what a life. truly a tradition fast dying out! I miss it.

5.03.2005

Girivalam - the journey

Girivalam, Thiruvannamallai (3 hours from Chennai), is a 14km stretch that circles the imposing hill, believed to be Lord Shiva himself. What appears to be an unassuming tar road, seems to speak volumes on life and death along its path. We started out, exploring Girivalam, more out of curiocity than with an intension of walking the entire mile.

The first trip we made was by car, at about 9.30 at night. We were told it was reasonably unsafe, though we figured it was not all that bad later. Girivalam hosts a number of way side shrines, holds the life of many sanyasas, who are either there looking for a higher truth or escaping from their reality by drowing themselves in ganja. Girivalam, has something to offer to every one who shows up there. It stays silent to all onlookers, stays peaceful to all passer-bys, holds burial grounds for deceased staunch shaivites and cremates a few other less lucky souls.

Every hill that stands across the path, against the main imposing hill, holds a temple. You would find every one here, Mother Goddess, Ganesha, Krishna, Kannappa nayanar and of course Lord Shiva himself. The stretch itself is covered by a canopy of trees, some shading Naga cult icons smeared with vermilion and turmeric, from the dreadful heat and sunlight. All over is a feeling of peace, and tranquility. In the night, the path looks different, errie for starters, when you walk past a cemetery hosting the cremation of a recently deceased man engulfed in flames, eating into the wood that was his final bed.

The whole stretch has eight lingas located on it, which when visited promise good life, wealth, health, no fear of death, status and what ever else you wanted from your mundane existance, hoping for an easy and better life. Most people come to seek such blessings.

Yes you get everything, as you walk along Giri Pradakshanam. But strangely, Girivalam has more to offer, if you are willing to look for it. The answers to all our inner searches, the next step when you are at a deadend seeking your own truths and just waiting for the "calling". Girivalam calls, to seekers and all you need to do is listen. Girivalam enlightens you to a reality beyond our lives, tells us how much we have been wasting our time looking for happiness in our mundane worlds. There is no happiness in seeking wealth, there is no happiness in human ties. The air of Girivalam holds a host of truths which you will see, only if you are receptive to it.

Girivalam shows life to you as it is. It houses the sanyasa, it houses the escapist, it houses the grihasta, it houses the dead, it houses the siddhas, it houses the Gods, it houses the animals. A complete universe pulsating with every breath of yours as you walk down trying to cover a 14 km stretch. Its indeed a walk through life and beyond... depending on what you want to see....