Srinivasan looked around, observing the sad faces of people who could not think or perceive life beyond the burning dead man who lay in front, reminding everyone that if they got lucky, they would get a chance to be cremated here too. Then Srinivasan turned and stared into the Ganges, through the clouded air wondering whether he could ever have set eyes on the silent presence of Lord Shiva whispering the Taraka Mantra into the ears of the dead, leading them to heaven and washing their karmas of this janma away into the pure chilling waters of the Ganges.
He stood and watched this world, distant to their emotions of sorrow, but aware completely of the reality of death that knocks at every door when the time comes. He heard the echo in the background.
Rama Nama Satya Hai Rama Nama Satya Hai
Low voices of men reverberated to the rhythm of the Ganges as the rising pyre ate into the dead. Srinivasan was at peace with himself, quite emotionless to the morose event taking place in front of him. Did these people even know why they were uttering those sacred words?
Srinivasan watched on as the words Ra Ma Na Ma began to echo in his mind. Rama Nama is the mantra that is called the Taraka Mantra. Taraka denotes 'tari' or the boat that takes the soul and crosses over the waters of samsara. Samsara, which means "flowing together" denotes the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, a constant cycle in time.
The Taraka Mantra is the name of Lord Rama himself. As the great Tamil poet Thyagaraja sings, 'Ra' is a syllable taken from the Ashtaksharam of Lord Vishnu - Om Na Mo Na Ra Ya Na Ya, and 'Ma' is taken from the Panchaksharam of Lord Shiva - Na Ma Shi Va Ya. The result is 'Rama', the beeja mantra of Lord Rama as named by Sage Vashishta.
The essence of the mantra is such. Sage Vishwamitra had done constant upasana and attained Sakshatkara over all the devatas of all the mantras. He gifted the outcome of these mantras to Rama be initiating him into it. With the utterance of this mantra Lord Rama attained Sakshatkara of all the devatas much sooner than the time sage Vishwamitra had taken. As the devatas appeared in front of Lord Rama while he did his upasana, Lord Rama did "avahanam", imbibing them into his being, and absorbed them into his heart. In this way, Lord Rama imbibed all the devas into himself. The Taraka mantra is the Rama mantra which is equivalent to worshiping all the devatas within him.
Ra in Rama is found in the ashtakshari (8 syllables) mantra of Om Namo Narayanaya. Ra is also the beeja mantra for Agni or fire, and could also be pronounced as Rum, Rm. Ra and Ma are jeeva-aksharas, or life giving syllables.
Interestingly, in Buddhist cosmology, Ma Ra (Mara) signifies ignorance and evil. Siddhartha conquered Mara and the world of illusions and seduction into materialism (samsara) to be finally enlightened as Gautama Buddha. Srinivasan thought on furiously, Ma Ra was the opposite of Ra Ma.
Srinivasan woke out of the echoing thoughts in his mind as the sun glowed through the engulfing flames at the Ghat. The air was cloudy and he almost imagined Lord Shiva whispering the sacred words through the flames of Agni, releasing the soul embarked with the Taraka mantra, in His divine voice, beyond all human awareness, and helping the boat sail into the other world.
Srinivasan got up to leave, watching the landscape as he walked back up the Ghats. Up ahead near the Ghat, glowing in bright sunlight and draped with flowers, the coppery hue of Lord Shiva glistened in the day light promising enlightenment to all who consciously seek the Taraka mantra upasana.
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