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12.31.2007

Temple of a saint - Adi Shankaracharya

It was a run, from the world familiar, a fast run away from reality as we know it. A breathless run until Srinivasan chanced upon a wall, a strange wall with a narrow door. It was a strange landscape, walls without roofs, doors leading no where, steps leading to the skies and stone as ancient as the creation of man and no sign of the creators of these strange pieces of architecture, all on top of a hill. In all the daylight it still seemed to look so meaningless and yet they were after him. Srinivasan felt relief when he saw the wall as he ran. It looked familiar but there was nothing beyond it that made any sense. Just a flight of steps leading up to the sky and a strange bell that didn't seem to call anyone to his rescue when he rang it and yet he felt he wanted to run, and get away and escape for good and go... where, he didn't know.

Srinivasan got up, awake into his familiar world, yet the images of another world hung vividly in his mind as he didn't make any sense of the place he had
just seen in his dream and yet, it was so familiar. It was close to reality, some place he had been to and had felt something drawing him so close, saving him from something he had no idea about yet felt its overpowering presence in his life.

View location of this temple - Photographed in 1911

Months passed and Srinivasan decided to go on a vacation. He had been working hard enough and deserved a break. Srinivasan stood at the hill and breathed in the fresh air. It was a perfect get away. The city was so far away from such purity and strangely wasn't it all a familiar man made world? He looked at the landscape, it was beautiful, and he wondered why he had not come to Srinagar all these days. He walked around the summit of Gopadhari hill looking at the greenery around deep down in the valley below wondering what else the Gods had blessed this earth with and why the cities were so devoid of such creation. As he drifted in his world the guide walked up to him and directed him to the temple ahead. Srinivasan gathered himself, quite forgetting he had company in this trip, company he suddenly didn't seem to want.

He walked on, coming up to a formidable wall. A wall that didn't seem to have anything around, and nothing beyond. It stood deserted lost in a realm of its own, yet an endless flight of steps seemed to lead to the skies above with a hint of stone beyond, ancient stone that belonged to another era unknown, just withered by time and belief. Srinivasan stood and gazed beyond as the bells ringing reverberated through the air. The chilling air settled in his mind as he stared up to ascend the steps to heaven. Srinivasan felt strange, not knowing what to expect. He just felt blank as he decided to see what really lay beyond. Every step up reminded Srinivasan that he had been here. The lanscape, the emptiness, the strange architecture that contradicted every book and every proven theory of art...nothing seemed to have value except this moment as he took to the steps. He touched the bell and rang it, the brass resonating the sound echoing within itself rang through his mind and senses. There was strange peace within his mind. He walked up, crossing this strange wall that housed a narrow door but led to no roof beyond but just a mammoth temple, made of ancient rock, octagonal in shape rising into the sky.

A narrow door lay ahead
holding secrets within its darkness. The main door appeared strangely similar to that he had seen within the pyramids of the Maya. Yet this kind of architecture was unknown and untapped back here. Srinivasan walked up to the main door, and looked at the world now at his feet. He was told it was the temple of Adi Shankaracharya, an ancient Shiva temple, that came to be known by this great saint's name centuries ago when he visited it and worshipped the Lord here. Adi Shankaracharya was known to have been initiated into the Shakti cult during this period.


Srinivasan entered the narrow entrance and walked through its thick walls. What lay ahead of him was a
breath taking view of the Lord. A stone linga towered in front of him, topped with floral offerings. A small chamber held more than just air and stone. Srinivasan came down on his knees, overwhelmed with the presence of the Lord in front of him. It was not just another temple, it was the world of Shankaracharya relived, the world of Lord Shiva brought alive again within his mind, the world of Shankaracharya temple waking up another soul to itself, far away and above the familiar world, one that promised experiences beyond the realm of the self, soaking the soul in the air within these chilling ancient walls experiencing the meaning of perfect life.

An ancient cult, an ancient world, ancient stone and an ancient emblem of faith still alive after so many centuries to just wake up the inner realm within the mind of Srinivasan - Shankaracharya temple, a divine outpost to the world of the Lord, meant much more than just a dream.

Courtesy:
Takhat-e-Sulaiman / Shankaracharya Temple. Srinagar 1911
sgankaracharaya - KPLink.com photo gallery
© 2003 shankracharya.com. All rights reserved.

12.24.2007

Inspirations for a life of true spiritualism

I was once asked about who was my inspiration to keep writing to my blog. I had no answer then except the name of Lord Shiva that echoed in my head. The thought remained in my mind for a while, about those who I would like to follow blindly as examples of perfection in my life.

Two names struck me at a shot, both of whom were a perfectionist when it came to self expression of their love to the Lord and towards their Guru. A Guru that even I admire and respect deeply within my heart but I am not really sure whether I made it to His list of favorite children. A simple man, who commanded respect as well as kept alive this fantastic faith that is slowly dying its natural death thanks to the “modern” questions we pose to try and understand something quite out of reach through reason and beyond probably even metaphysics. The then Mahaperivar of Kanchipuram was an epitome of divinity and peace, a human nature we have somewhere quite given up to even try and attain.

I have come to admiring two of his favorite children and yes, they have set me an example of at least hoping to make it to His list. To be a favorite child of Kanchi Mahaperivar Chandrashekhar Swamigal mean pure devotion, complete surrender, love and adoration for the Lord and maybe orthodoxy too. I have not made it too well in any of these areas, but the Mahaperivar is always there deep down to guide me when I lose my way. He has been the fire to perform for both His favorite children.

One of His children did it through her music. She is probably the only person who brought soul into Carnatic music and gave it the additional touch of devotion that overpowered technique, for when one listens to her song, there is so much life and humility that you can almost hear the Lord wake up to her notes. And what is music without soul? What is music without devotion? M. S. Subhalakshmi makes the heart melt to the Lord when she dives into her ocean of music and takes our souls with her.

Another of Mahaperivar’s favorite children is a unique man. A person I would call India’s unknown Michaelangelo. I had the opportunity to visit his house and come across his works of perfection. And perfection simply seems to be an understatement. What lay around me was not raw talent or patience of practice of expression. What lay in front of my eyes was just one original picture that made my heart skip a beat, and transform my world to feel miserable and small in front of such a great man. Artist Shilpi as he is known was an illustrator for the Ananda Vighatan(Tamil magazine), who gave up his illustrative career to be blessed by the Mahaperivar of Kanchipuram, Sri Chandrasekhar Swamigal, to begin painting deities within temples across the country. I do not have words to express the beauty he has captured in every deity of the North and South of India.

There is something more that is common to these two people, and that is purity in their minds and detachment to the world and complete surrender to the Lord when they performed. We need to realize that music is found everywhere but that with devotion which can melt your heart and make you emotionally breakdown in front of the Lord are few. The same with visual art, talent is plenty but that which religiously follows one goal and is perseverant to bring the Lord to your home are few to find. And of course that additional something, that makes the heart look within itself, searching furiously for the promised Lord hiding within ourselves. These people are inspirations, to the material world of people that we are missing something far more fundamental in our lives and that is a spiritual high that is rare to find but needs to be patiently worked upon.

Having said this, here is a league of people, who have walked the same earth we have, during our times and are definitely not mythological and have no tales to make us believe they were supernatural. They all lived next door, around us, and lived a life that was once celebrated on Indian soils. I can only hope Mahaperivar blesses me as I seek inspiration from His favorite children, that the very Incarnate of Lord Shiva teaches me as I move on. I am indeed blessed to have set eyes on this divine incarnation of Lord Shiva.

Om Namo Bhagavate Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Sharanam Prabhadyey

12.17.2007

Shiva Bhairava - The naked mendicant

The form of Bhairava is considered to be fierce and terrific, one that infuses more fear than love towards Lord Shiva. Bhairava is known to be a naked mendicant or at least follows the same iconographic appearance as Bhikshatana where he is depicted ash clad and naked.

As described in the Shivabhaktavilasam, Dabhra Bhakta, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva was being tested for his devotion to the Lord. In order to show Parvati the intensity of Dabhra Bhakta's devotion, Lord Shiva descended to the earth in the form of Bhairava to his residence. Dabhra Bhakta, unaware that the very Lord had descended, was blessed to have seen this form of the Lord and as he directed the stranger who had come begging for a meal. As he guided his guest back home, he describes his appearance as follows:

He appeared to be a staunch Maheshwar, with the very grace of Lord Shiva shining upon him, a stranger who had come to this little town, and had knocked at his door asking for a meal. As Dabhra Bhakta was not at home, the mendicant went to the nearby Ganapateshwara temple and waited. On hearing about his arrival, Dabhra Bhakta rushed to the temple to invite the mendicant home. As he neared the temple he saw an aged man sitting under a tree and meditating. His left elbow was supported by a Yogadanda his staff, and he had a Brahma Kapala (skull cap that serves as a begging bowl) near his right hand which was engaged in counting the beads of his rudraksha rosary as he chanted within his mind. His effulgence beat the very beams of sunlight that lit up the day. He looked aged and yet very rugged. He was ash clad and in deep meditation when the invitation for a meal was brought over to him.

He rose up from his seat in all his majesty and grandeur. He took out a handful of ash from the pouch in front of him and smeared it all over himself, forming a little cloud of holy ash that almost crowned his brow like a halo. He help the kapalam and skull bowl in one hand and played the damaru in the other hand creating a sound so loud and terrific that it echoed his arrival through the little town. He wore a waist band of skulls which rubbed against each other as he walked on gracefully. His thick silver tresses were neatly held up tightly in his elaborate jatamukuta which he tied with a garland of smaller skulls. He was smeared with red gorochana on his forehead and it seemed like the fiery third eye spread fear over his brow while his eyes showed great compassion to the world. And as he walked, his over sized anklets tinkled on manifesting the primeval nada - the cosmic vibration.

That was Bhairava then, depicted in scriptures and sung about and probably He walked this very earth in the previous yugas. A depiction so clear that it became the definition of "Shivahood" among the yogis of the coming centuries. The yogi attire has not changed much since then, though with a few alterations to the described visual appeal. But none have come even close to matching the Lord's form, His beauty, his very presence that reflects in the eyes of the aspirant, one who has immersed himself completely into the worship and love for the Lord, living in a real trance as he journeys into His adoration.

These are the possible appearances of Bhairava today, those that somewhere remotely match the Lord's original splendor but seem to have lost the essence of His presence in their eyes!


12.07.2007

Pashupatinath Temple, Nepal

Pashupatinath Temple, Nepal
Click the photo to enlarge

When beauty transforms itself into grim reality

When all curtains of illusion fall

When the mind comes face to face with the truth of death

When the mind gives up all attachment

When joy is overcome by the futility of existence

When it feels that this is Now the end

You're at Pashupatinath temple, Nepal.




On a cold wintry morning Nepal presents an ancient quaint little town basking in the morning sunlight. It is a beautiful city with ancient temples, plenty of emblems and the echo of Lord Shiva and Buddha surround you as you explore its lanes. Narrow streets, wooden walls, strange and exquisite carvings along roof edges against the mountains behind, it cannot get more picturesque, its a treat to the eye.


But as one walks down the narrow lanes of life along the Bagmati river with the anticipation of Pashupatinath in the mind one also sees endless burning ghats, bodies perishing into flames, souls departing and all of life coming to an end. It is a smoky lane to cross, where the blinding mist is overpowered by the thick curtain of smoke rising from these funeral pyres.


And there it stands by day. A gold roofed temple at the top, with a flight of ancient steps leading up to it. A gorgeous courtyard meets us right after the treat of death looming all around us. Its like we rose up to paradise or heaven , reaching the abode of Lord Pashupatinath. Dotted with smaller shrines and pillared halls, this is a "delicate" wooden temple with exquisite sculptures blanketing its wooden exteriors.
A small wooden structure plated with gold, leads one into the tiny sanctum approached from four cardinal directions. And there He stands in the center in the form of a chaturamukha linga. The four faced Shiva, Lord of all the directions is seated at the center of this sacred shrine chamber. Each of his mukhas(faces) represent Isana, Tatpurusha, Vamadeva and Aghora attributed as guardians to the four directions.

This is the moment when all life halts, all desires for health and wealth fade away, all pain and agony in the mind disappears, and the life in us wakes up and the mind goes blank. The only reality of Lord Shiva lies ahead in front of us, the only question of what the value of this life is echoes in the mind. The limits fo existence wake the mind, we are born, we will die, we owe nothing, we belong no where, we have come and we have to go, the only constant is Lord Pashupatinath, our only reality and hope in our transition to the next world. The arti rises and the faces of the Lord glow within the dark misty interior. Its a moment of tranquil existence where, neither death or birth matter. Life will cease.


The landscape around Pashupatinath temple is dotted with smaller shrines of Lord Shiva along the river side. As one looks through all the shrines the thought that runs through the mind is the repetition of births we take and continuously toil through our many lives. At every stage we come face to face with the Lord as we go from one life to another, rather aimlessly.
As one walks down to the river, to take her blessings and purify oneself, a small linga beckons us to come its way. A personal worship, a small abhishekam, with the river water and blessings for a fruitful life are granted at this little shrine out in the open. At the end of this small ritual, a lamp is lit, a flame of enlightenment as it burns and sails down the Bagmati. A fire, the light for the rest of our lives.

With a heavy heart and a torn mind, the steps lead back to our familiar worlds that lie ahead of us. With the vision of the Lord, His all pervading self, deeply engraved in us, one can't stop but think about the value of life. As one journeys back to the grind, Pashupatinath Temple leaves an uneasy void, that we are missing the presence of a greater reality, one before which all else is just nothing.

Pashupatinath temple on the night of Shivratri.
Click the photo to enlarge