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11.30.2007

Mahasadashiva - Vishwaroopa darshanam

The Vishwarupa Darshanam of Lord Krishna has been elaborately described in the Gita, but few know or realize that of lesser known Shiva. This is a form of Lord Shiva that defines pure consciousness. A form of Shiva that is hard to come by. Few have sculpted His form in stone and bronze. Strangely the Vishwarupa Darshan of Shiva is very similar to what we see for Krishna/Vishnu in illustrative representations of the Gita today.

The Uttarakamikagama describes Sadashiva in white with flowing jatamukuta sinking the glowing crescent moon into His locks. He sits in Padmasana and is depicted either with 5 faces or with one face and 3 eyes - each symbolising Agni, Chandra and Surya or Iccha Shakti, Jnana Shakti and Kriya Shakti. He has 10 arms; his right carries Sakti, Sula (spear), Khatvanga (spear/tantric staff of a long arm bone with a skull at its head), prasada and the last arm is in Abhaya (Hand gesture blessing symbolising "Do not fear"). On his left he carries Bhujanga (snake), akshamala (garland of beads in counts of 27 to 108), Damaru (Sound of creation - OM), nilotpala (half opened lotus bud) and a fruit of the Matulunga (Ayurvedic fruit). He wears a yajnopavita (holy thread) and when he is depicted with one face and 3 eyes, he is also accompanied by goddess Manonmani.

The more terrific form of Sadashiva or Ughra form is 18 armed with flames rising out of His 5th head. He is alternatively found carrying the sûla (trident), pâ'sa (noose), khadga (sword), khetaka (weapon), musala (food grain), para'su (axe), ghanta (time/bell), kapâla (skull cap) among others. Mahasadashiva is described to have 25 heads (5*5) - they represent the Panchabrahmas and symbolize the 25 tattvas of philosophy.

Mahasadashiva depicts a state of mind, one which is further emphasized by the presence of goddess Manonmani alias Durga. Manonmani is a state (a mudra in yoga) where the eyes are neither closed not open, a state where breath is neither inhaled nor exhaled, and the mind is blank, it doesn't speculate or have doubting thoughts. Its after this stage that Unmani stage of super consciousness is reached. The state of the eyes when they are neither opened nor closed is called Nilotpala or resembling a half opened water lily(lotus). To reach this state of super consciousness, one needs to detach from worldly illusions and conquer their fear of death. Hence the Lord is shown in the Abhaya mudra. His various hands hold icons of this truth, emphasizing that this illusionistic world is just a facade, the real truth behind which is probably too difficult to imagine and hence is represented by the Rudra form of the terrific Sadashiva.

But the most beautiful emphasis is made to the three eyes of the Lord - Trayambaka(release from the cycle of birth and death). The third eye is typically associated with fierceness, but in reality the eye radiates a brilliant light, a kind of eye blinding brilliance which is not there in the calm of the other two eyes equated to a blooming lotus when the moonlight falls on it. Such is the beauty of Sadashiva, where coolness of the moonlit night is experienced at the same time as the brilliance of enlightenment when the fiery third eye opens one into consciousness. Such beauty can scarcely be scary except to the ignorant who fail to see the beauty if Mahasadashiva.

A quiet path to self realization brings the brilliance of Lord Shiva's Vishwarupa darshan to the mind's eye. One where the Lord presents his all encompassing form into one - Mahasadashiva roopa.

The other surviving example of Mahasadashiva is this rock cut sculpture from Elephanta caves.


Courtesy: Gopinatha Rao, T. A. <1872-1919>: Elements of Hindu iconography. -- Madras : Law Printing House, 1914 - 1916. -- 2 Bde in 4 : Ill. -- Bd. II, 2. -- S. 371 – 374 PL CXIII and PI. CX V illustrate the description of Sadâ'sivamurti

11.23.2007

64 Yoginis dance with Bhairava

Please click on the photographs to enlarge them
64 Yoginis come into focus when references are made to the dark side of Tantricism. The cult of tantrics profusely flourished in the 8th century where it reached its peak. Today we have just 4 of these temples scattered across our indian landscape. Two of these are located in Orissa at Hirapur and Ranipur Jharial, one is in Madhya Pradesh in Bheraghat temple and one supposedly in Tamil Nadu.

64 Yoginis appear like they are in a wild trance with Lord Shiva. Here the rhythms are quite different, the music is stranger and the flavour is wild. Bhavabhuti once expressed in the Malathi Madhava, the very same beauty of these Kanyas in the rituals of tantricism associated with the Mother Goddess, though the tantric played a villainous role of attempting human sacrifice. This is not a celebration of the infamous ritual practice but a poetic peep into this world of Gods and Goddesses, a part of our better known Shiva and Kali.
The focus is on the cosmic truth, the only truth that lies in front of us that we run away from - Death. The form of the Lord here is Bhairava who brings us face to face with this truth. Truth is indigestible and this probably needs a different kind of understanding. Bhairava is charming and wild as a thought but coming face to face with Bhairava means playing with fire. Bhairava, popularly depicted as a naked mendicant, like Bhikshatana with a dog on his side and jatas in flames, a face with fangs and a fierce expression, one we would barely call charming. Bhairava teaches the art of Mrithyunjaya, or the conquest of death, which is our only redemption.


The chaunsat yogini temple of Hirapur is roofless and gives the impression of a womb. 64 goddesses circle its sacred enclosure within whose center stands a platform for ancient Tantric sacrifices or may once have hosted Lord Bhairava who is now missing. Here feminine beauty is not just depicted with care but is worshipped with as much ferver. The Goddess is depicted with her assets enhanced, her power and strength, her attributes completely sculpted to perfection emphasize the miracle of life and procreation. Ajaikapada Bhairava or the one legged Bhairava is depicted in one of the niches of this temple.

At the Chaunsat Yogini temple of Ranipur its a little different. These 64 yoginis are sensuous maidens who dance with the Lord in Odissi, a wilder and more terrifying form is depicted as compare to the familiar sweeter Krishna Leela. Here is passion of a different kind that celebrates procreation in a different form, far more raw and probably indigestible to our minds today.

Here too there is life, there is pleasure and warmth with the Lord and the Goddesses. It gives a feeling of awe, of something mysterious and sacred. Bhairava takes center stage at the Chaunsat Yogini temple in Ranipur. He stands within his mandapa, in a fierce fiery dance revealing the truth of procreation and death.

In the crackling flames that light up this deserted temple we witness 64 maidens almost naked dance the Odissi, like Kanyas, with complete grace around Bhairava. As the smoke rises and transforms this roofless temple into a magical theater, 64 dancing damsels create life with the Lord. With sentuality in the air, red bangles cling creating music so wild, so powerful and so potent, this is a different world of the living. This is a wild world of Shiva Leela, a little beyond our conditioned imagination! These powers came alive as human blood once flowed through in offering.

To the great Lord Mrithyunjaya, O Bhairava
Who holds the truth to us so clear
That we crumble before His burning eyes
As he lifts the curtain of illusion
The stark truth of death
O warrior fight and conquer it
The 64 mothers worship
Mrityunjaya Rudra Bhiarava Shiva.

Please click on the heading to download more information on ancient tantric cults in Orissa.

11.15.2007

Adbhutanath Shiva and the miracle of living!

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Sammidheshwar temple, Chittor Fort, Mewar, Rajasthan:

Lost in the ancient sands of the Thar, dotted with the ruins of a great fort that once held the mirror of Rani Padmini, now offers the Sammidheshwar temple. Born into the rich temple fortress of the Mewar dynasty at the seat of Chittor, surrounded by the victory tower on one side and Mahasati (royal cremation ground) on the other, Shiva is presented in mind blowing splendor.

Rajasthan speaks poetry, and Mewar speaks valor, self respect and death with honor. Mewar, the name, makes one breathe in deep, to just listen to the galloping horse hoofs of Rana Kumbha who dashed down the fort to meet the Mughals at the bottom of the plateau. In the air, one can still listen to the bhajans of Mira Bai as she sang her heart out to Krishna. Mewar also echoes the shrikes of women who burnt themselves in Jauhar(mass sacrifice by self immolation). Within these very fort walls, in the exquisitely carved temple of Sammidheshwar lies this form of Adbhutanata Shiva.

One way of perceiving it is as follows:

We last heard of Shiva Trimurti at Elephanta where the Vakataka empire had sculpted Him out exquisitely early in the 5th cen AD. Later He has been profusely sculpted symbolically as Trimurti embedded within the Nataraja by the Cholas in the 8th cen AD, with the creator, preserver and the destroyer appearing as the Damaru (creation), and the fire bowl (destruction) on either side of the Lord. Trimurthi is the name given to any form of Lord Shiva that displays Vamadeva(feminine) and Aghora(fierce) simultaneously but these representations are also numbered. Alternatively he is represented with Brahma and Vishnu. He appears in the Sammidheshwar temple in the 6th cen A.D as Adbhutanata alias Trimurthi possibly.

Another way to perceive Him is to feel the interiors of the temple within which He lies.

The outside of the Sammidheshwar temple is laced in marble with exquisite shikharas rising up to the Kalash(pot). As the walls rise high, in marble finery carved with sculpture of Gods and Kanyas, the inside of the temple is a passage opening into a cool, hollow dimly lit room open to the roof rising high up. This is a well lit interior, the walls of which appear strong and solid unlike their delicate appearance on the outside.

Click on photo to enlarge

As one steps in, cutting out the light, and walks towards the sanctum, there is little knowledge of what is going to meet the eye. Just two pairs of bright eyes might quite be an astonishment. This form of Shiva brings alive to us a silent world of perfection. Shiva is the Lord of perfection, the master of Siddhis. Siddhis are of 8 kinds and one of them is associated with Laghima. Laghima is the perfection reached when a person controls his senses and has reached a spiritual plane where he can levitate.

Laghima means lightness, that is the perfection that makes the body levitate at will. Adbhutanata Shiva presents us with the Rasa of adbhuta, or wonder and astonishment that translates to this perfection. Rasa associates itself in the ancient texts with aesthetics of perfection, adbhuta(meaning wonder and astonishment) is a Rasa experienced when one attainst the siddhi of Laghima.

Wonder towards what? In this rather abstract theory, which I hope to construct, astonishment and wonder is connected with the miracle of life and the appreciation of it as much as its experience. This is where the simplicity of living is realized as a miracle, where the aspirant humbly accepts the miracle of "living" with every breath.

It is strange that the Chittor fort sang the praises of its dead on every rock and hosts a Shiva temple that praises the miracle of life!

Photo Courtesy:Shunya.net

11.07.2007

108 Lingas along the Tungabhadra


Hampi, Vijayanagar:

Along the stony granite landscape of a once heavenly city now in ruins, lie remnants of a tradition silently living among us. What remains today is a stark granite rock outcrop heated by the daylight carrying the potent symbols of the Lord numbering upto 108 and in some cases 1008.

Back in 10th century AD, there flourished in Indian tradition a cult that worshiped Lord Shiva out in the open. In the great land of Vijayanagar, now known as Hampi there are examples of this scattered all along the Tungabhadra river.

Out in the open...is what it might appear to be, but the very symbolism of Lord Shiva was carved into rock to reside within a home, a temple, the roof of which faces north. Interestingly the entry into this house is from the east, with a path of flat stone leading right upto the main Linga in the center, a central garbha griha so to speak.

This home could probably have also symbolized the Panchakshara mantra of Lord Shiva, the 5 sacred syllables(Na Ma Shi Va Ya) of Lord Shiva representing each side of this diagrammatic temple. Like any other architectural marvel for the Lord, this diagrammatic temple also worshiped 108 Lingas within itself, with Abhishekam done from the east and path for the libation fluids given towards the north, also heading towards the conical roof of the temple.

In the early hours of Brahma Muhurta one can imagine, the cool breeze sweeping along the Tungabhadra. Silent waves almost sound like the gentle anklets of damsel taking a holy dip before she starts her prayers. Among the rocky boulders drenched in the moonlight, is the shimmering flames of a fire, and in the silent breeze one can hear the sweet notes...

OM SHIVAYA NAMAHA
OM MAHESHVARAYA NAMAHA
OM SHAMBHAVE NAMAHA
OM PINAKINE NAMAHA
OM SHASHISHEKHARAYA NAMAHA...

Sacred names of the Lord fill the air, 108 names of the divine bress the air as a voice sings them out in deep worship.

...OM SARVAYA NAMAHA
O
M TRILOKESHAYA NAMAHA
OM SHITAKANTHAYA NAMAHA
OM SHIVAPRIYAYA NAMAHA
OM UGRAYA NAMAHA
OM KAPALINE NAMAHA...

Few spectators watch on as the water flows over 108 heads forming a channel and leading gently out of the temple, exiting at the roof. A symbolism that the soul merges with the supreme as one performs this ritual of Abhishekam. The flame slowly rises and casts shadows of the various Lingas elaborately carved into the rock, dancing in the flame light.

Its a different world, of music and love, of peace and tranquility, of life and happiness, of detachment from all the temptations life has to offer. The bells ring and the priest raises his hand and pours milk over the Lord, singing his verses again

...OM CHARUVIKRAMAYA NAMAHA
OM RUDRAYA NAMAHA
OM BHUTAPATAYE NAMAHA
OM STHANAVE NAMAHA
OM AHIRBUDHNYAYA NAMAHA...

The fire rises again, and the voices echo as the mantras deafen the ears and the surrounding whistling breeze carries the fragrance of flowers of offering. The birds begin to chirp and the darkness gives way to light, a new day and a new beginning as the voice carries on.

...OM SAHASRAPADE NAMAHA
OM APAVARGAPRADAYA NAMAHA
OM ANANTAYA NAMAHA
OM TARAKAYA NAMAHA
OM PARAMESHVARAYA NAMAHA.

OM ATMAYA NAMA ATMA LINGAYA NAMAH OM

I am the Lord, one with Him, merged into His being. I worship you O Lord, who enlightens me into this new world with a new mind.

In the case of the 1008 Lingas, there were arrangements for a make shift roof, an idea of which remains in rock along the four corners of the diagrammatic temple.

Happy Diwali to everyone! :)

Photo courtesy: Pratheep.com