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11.30.2008

Lord Shiva Mrityunjaya, I silently pray

Today, I have silence in my mind, few words but larger emotions. There is anger within me and there is fear. What would I have done if i was there? It scares me to even think of it, leave alone experience it.

The heart beats on even faster in this eerie silence, I do not know what to say but I feel that fear. where is the world going and this was so close to home! Such massacre, bloodshed and fear reigning around here.

Fear, comes in different forms, when we are imperfect and wish to hide our actions from the world or when its just something we cannot face as a circumstance. Fear makes us remember the Lord a lot lot more and brings us down to our mere humility praying that the Lord's grace will shine bright on us for that moment when the mind is completely engulfed with this feeling as it eats into every cell reducing us to not function half as well.

Fear strikes when the unfamiliar world knocks at our doorstep challenging us to face it with presence of mind and practicality. It checks how much we can hold on before we crack up and break down into misery and suffering. Fear is an emotion that is induced from the external world and that really decides whether we will make it through it or not.

The only way out from fear is prayer, deep prayer, which makes the mind and heart break down into a pool of tears. Prayer that the Lord will listen to and descend upon us to protect us from the impending misery. Thats when the prayer or the mantra comes gushing out from the depths of the heart.

And when death gapes at one straight, I don't know how I would react. I cannot theorize and I cannot comprehend that fear. Yes Lord Shiva left us with a profound piece of sacred syllables, that kill any fear within the heart. At that time, maybe one just has to think only about the 3 eyed Lord, who makes life look like a fragrance so beautiful, that we should enjoy while we live it, and as the moment of death approaches, this mantra give strength, courage so strong that one is probably ready to face the unfamiliar.

If life is lived for the moment, to the fullest, then death is no fear when it comes. Maybe its this craving to live that makes us want to not face death when it comes. Its the most unfamiliar territory, the most painful probably and the one with maximum transition such that one leaves everything behind. This is easier said than done.

Clinging to the Lord for dear life may help, clinging to the sacred syllables for dear strength may help, clinging to Lord Shiva and facing fate may help.

Mrityunjaya RUdraya Neelakanthaya Sambhave|
Amriteshaya Sarvaya Mahadevayadhe Namaha||

To the Lord Mrityunjaya,the victorious over death, to Rudra, To Neelakantha the blue throated, you make it possible to turn my life into a elixir of experiences,into life giving wisdom that immortalizes my being while I live on, to the same Lord Mahadeva I bow and pray humbly as He raises his hand and blesses me in Abhaya.

I am granted this life, to worship him, and immortalize my experience as I grow and become stronger and fearless in my worship.

Today I cried, I cried out all my fears, some in silence and some aloud. I cried, because it shook me, my life, and the news on TV. I didnt know anyone of them, but I couldnt stop crying.

11.23.2008

Shiva Dakshinamurthy, Vadapalani, Chennai

This is a way side small temple, with a shrine seeped in history, an ancient temple that still holds out against the invasion of modernity. This temple has a garbha griha that still stays lit up with oil lamps which illuminate the Linga within its interior decked in vilva leaves.

Lord Shiva, grants wishes and specially those that are made from the bottom of one’s heart. As we waited, sweating it out within the innermost prakara, the stillness in the air and the rising smoke create an unforgettable aura.

When the curtains are down, the devotees wait in chattering queues wanting to get a glimpse of the Lord while he still hides behind the curtain, as the priest performs alankaram. And once the curtains are pulled, there is stunned silence for the million lamps that light the inside, describe the beauty and energy of this shrine in a sacred glamour to be found nowhere else.

As one gasps again for breath, this beauty making every one forget their miseries is a moment no one can steal away from any bhakta, its precious, its profound and its sacred bringing such sense of peace that all the chattering is drowned into divine silence. The prayers roll on, and the arti lamps rise, one after the other as the lord is illumined with every lamp brought forward.

Divinity and sacred energy washes every devotee as they take a glimpse of the shrine of Lord Shiva within, and walk out only to turn back occasionally to catch a second glance as they proceed in silence to take their pradakshina. As one walks through the corridor, looking up at Nataraja as he dances within his chamber, his omnipresence envelopes the entire passage. The lights suddenly go out, and the passage is plunged into darkness.

It’s a darkness that transforms the temple back in to the past, to the medieval period, where only the divine lamps glow near the deities within the niches. It’s a different world, as one crosses Dakshinamurthy.

AUM yo brahmaaNaM vidadhaati puurvam.h
yo vai vedaa.nshcha prahiNoti tasmai |
taM ha devamaatmabuddhiprakaashaM

mumukshurvai sharaNamahaM prapadye ||


AUM shaa.ntiH shaa.ntiH shaa.ntiH||

I surrender to Him who projects Brahma at the beginning of all creation and reveals the sacred syllables of the Vedas. This inspiration turns my intellect and my thought towards Atman. May He bestow peace on us forever.

He sits there in silence, the Vedas flowing forth from him, a realm that comes alive, so true and so pure and so far away from the reality we know. Silence grips the air, with the shimmering light of the flickering lamps on his face, as he blesses in abhaya, seated with his divine feet on apasmara. One could stand there forever and wish for the lights never to come back. Walking around this passage, with each emblem of divinity glowing in lamp light brings such beauty to this interior; one begins to wonder, did we make a mistake by putting these electric lamps around here? As our minds seep into this reality, short lived yet worth every moment, one can see the divinity of Lord Dakshinamurthy come alive. In the still air the expression of wisdom and divine light glow on His face as he continues to teach in the subtle world:

naanaachchhidraghaTodarasthitahaadiipaprabhaabhaasvaraM
GYaanaM yasya tu chakshuraadikaraNadvaaraa bahiH spandate |
jaanaamiiti tameva bhaantamanubhaatyetatsamastaM jagat.
tasmai shriigurumuurtaye nama idaM shriidakshiNaamuurtaye ||

He whose light gleams through the senses like the light emanating from a pot with holes (in which a lamp is kept), He whose knowledge alone brings the state of knowing (I am That), He whose brightness makes everything shine - to that Dakshinamurti, who is embodied in the auspicious Guru, I offer my profound salutations.

In ancient India, fire has been considered supreme. Fire is the path of enlightenment, the path of worship and the path of light. Why then destroy this experience with electric lights that brighten up the interior so much, it kills the very beauty of the “garbha griha” and the path around. Darkness is what our lives are made of and enlightenment through fire is what brings us salvation. A small example of this profound experience was what these temples tried to bring to us and we simply destroyed it with stark electric lights that kill the very experience we long for when we come here.

Temple authorities need to bring back that ancient glory that ancient divinity prescribed in our Vedas, divine verses that prescribe that temples are meant for realization of this sacred truth… Why then is this desecration to a sacred shrine accepted as a part of life?

Why then are the priests who are the seekers of enlightenment, reducing themselves to mechanical worshippers? Why then are the priests who are learned and the keepers of our faith disrespecting the very value of our sacred texts? How then can we blame anyone else for the loss of knowledge of our own culture? Are they not solely to blame? Why don’t they realize that they owe us, the answers to these very very serious questions They owe us an answer as to why corruption and materialism has taken over their minds when this country boasts of its spiritualism. What really is left of it?

raahugrastadivaakarendusadR^isho maayaasamaachchhaadanaat
sanmaatraH karaNopasa.nharaNato yo.abhuutsushhuptaH pumaan|
praagasvaapsamiti prabodhasamaye yaH pratyabhiGYaayate
tasmai shriigurumuurtaye nama idaM shriidakshiNaamuurtaye ||

The brillance of sun exists even when intercepted by Rahu during eclipse. Similarly, the power of cognition only remains suspended during deep sleep. The Self exists as pure being even though unrecognized due to the veil of Maya. A person on awakening becomes aware that he was asleep earlier (and the dream was unreal). Similarly, a person who awakens to the consciousness of the Self recognizes his previous state of ignorance as unreal. He by whose grace alone does one awaken to the consciousness of the Self - to that Dakshinamurti, who is embodied in the auspicious Guru, I offer my profound salutations.

Divine light and divine experience need to be experienced, and the ambience of these ancient temples were designed to facilitate this. In these times where spiritualism barely has any presence left, its left to one's own desire to want to discover Lord Dakshinamurthy.

11.16.2008

Shiva Bhikshatana and Mata Annapurni at Varanasi

"Bhikshaan Dehi... Bhikshaan Dehi"

This echo at the door brings every lady of the house, every grihasta to offering annam, or rice as food for the mendicants who come by. These mendicants were intellects of a superior kind and society considered it an honor to serve them. One such story has been previously mentioned in the life of Kaaraikkal Ammaiyar who fed a mendicant a mango, a Shiva Yogi who came to her door step.

This is one of many instances where Shiva Bhikshatana has walked into the lives of people and blessed them by coming to their doorstep or by holding a dialog with them questioning the practise of the very knowledge they have been enlightened with. This was in the case of Adi Shankaracharya, who seemed to have a slight touch of arrogance?! about his status as an enlightened soul. The Manishapanchakam is the enlightening dialog between an untouchable sweeper surrounded by dogs who met this great saint in the streets of Varanasi near the Kashi Vishwanath temple.


As Shankara walked by, he signalled for the untouchable to move as he walked to the main temple. The sweeper, surrounded by dogs with a stick in the hand asked Shankara whether the sun made a difference between the Ganges and the water by the homes of the untouchables where its reflection fell? How then is the atman of a sweeper any different from the atman within him, an enlightened soul? Even the greatest of enlightened souls was questioned over his pride of being knowledgable.

Here are two instances, where Shiva Bhikshatana has made a mark in the lives of two people in recorded history, one a lady serving him at her doorstep, and another was an enlightened saint of his time.

This very same form that Adi Shankara saw and recognized as Lord Shiva is the same form that is seen within the walls of the Kashi Vishwananth temple within the shrine chamber of Swarna Annapurni.
Annapurni Mata, an incarnation of Goddess Parvati resides here at Varanasi, promising all mortals that there is food and prosperity promised to all. Shiva Bhikshatana resides here as a naked mendicant to whom she serves food with her own hands.

Lord Bhikshatana and Mata Annapurni do not represent abundance of food in the literal sense. The divine couple have the same message to give to the mortal world be it Kaaraikkal Ammaiyar who fed a mendicant food, or to Adi Shankara who was given enough food for thought despite being a superior soul with intellect.

Bhiksha, can be food for sustenance, bhiksha can be food of enlightenment. The mother is resourceful, a provider of knowledge as well as one who wipes out hunger. She is the life force, the energy that drives one to want, to be passionate to know, to realize the truth of their divine existence. It is Shiva Bhikshatana who enlightens even the enlightened, and makes them realize that the truth of his form as Bhikshatana, as the teacher, is beyond the arrogance of written knowledge. In his world, Bhiksha is the need for divine knowledge, to fulfill the purpose of realizing oneself, and therefore even the most superior intellects walk with a bowl, the brahma kapala, that which is the humble request to the Lord to grant divine knowledge and kill the hunger of the bhakta.

As the Shree Annapoornaashtakam goes...

Annapoorna Sadaa Poorne Shankarapraana Vallabhe| Gyaanavairagya Siddhayartam Bhikshaan Dehi Cha Paarvati|| Maataa Cha Paarvati Devi Pitaa Devo Maheshwara| Baandavaa Shivabhaktaakshcha Swadesho Bhuvanatrayam||
Annapoorne – the wife of Lord Shiva;
Sadapoorne – who is always full of resources; She who is full of food;
Sankara – of Lord Sankara(Shiva);
Prana – the life-force; energy;
Vallabhe – the beloved;
Jnana – knowledge;
Vairagya – attitude of renunciation;
Siddhyartham – to fulfill the purpose of;
Bhiksham – alms, food;
Dehi – give us;
Namostute – we bow down to You

In the mortal world to Goddess Annapurni I pray:

Bhikshaam dehi kripaa valambanakaree maataannapoornesvaree||

In the intellectual world of realizing one self and surrendering to Lord Maheshwara I pray:

Shivaya Nama Om Shiva Lingaya Nama Om| Atmaya Nama Om Atma Lingaya Nama Om||

Related topics:
Shiva Bhikshatana - the enchanting mendicant.
He presents Himself
Shiva Bhairava - The naked mendicant
Jyotirlinga - Kasi Vishwanath, Varanasi
Enlightenment on the streets of Varanasi

Photo courtesy:
Chennaionline.com
tamilnation.org

11.09.2008

KAraikkAl AmmaiyAr - a woman among the 63 Nayanmars

Karaikkal Ammaiyar, 6th Century.

The highlight of Ammaiyar's story is that she asked Lord Shiva for a boon, one that would reduce her youth to a skeleton, demonic in appearance and would cease to be a distraction in her eternal devotion to the Lord.

The mysterious element in this Nayanmar's life is that her songs to the Lord are of a specific flavor, that brings alive an aspect of Shaivism fairly unknown in these times - the Aghori path of Shiva belief. As her story reveals, she was given 2 mangoes by her husband to keep safely so that he could have it during his meal. Reference has been made to a Shiva yogi who visited their house in his absence and she gives him one of the fruits with curd rice.

Drawing parallels, the Mangani Tirunal festival observed on Purnima in the month of Aani in Tamil Nadu, is a time when this incident is re-enacted and people are served mangoes and curd rice, the belief being that it was Shiva Bhikshatana who roamed around the world collecting alms and reached the door of KAraikkAl Ammaiyar. Shiva Bhikshatana's appearance can be paralleled with the aghori babas and naga baba's appearance where he is a naked mendicant, the difference being, he is also extremely sensuous and attractive.

Coming to some of the verses sung by KAraikkAl AmmaiyAr, her descriptions of Shiva Bhikshatana or Shiva Rudra residing in the cremation ground, render a stomach churning experience should one try to visualize this form!

Quoted from the " thiruviraTTai maNimAlai"

His matted hair of ruddy gold is adorned
With Konrai flowers which are buzzed and kindled
By chafers; there the serpent of venomous sacs stands hissing:
Such is He, the long-haired Brahmin.
He is indeed the Lord who will not passively witness
The misery of worshippers who hail Him

*Konrai: Cassia ; Indian Laburnum
*chafers: a type of beetle

O heart, for ever hail Him who is Sankara, the One
Of matted hair that dangles low, the righteous One who
On that matted hair sports a soaring serpent and the One
Who on that day saves you from the onslaught of misery.

* that day is the day of one’s death

Other forms of Shiva that are made references to:

Tripurantaka Shiva;
In the world of eternal bliss, do what I bid you.
He, the Hero annihilated the triple citadels of His-foes;
He is eight shouldered, Bow, with delay none, at His feet
Which are like pure and fresh gold; be poised
In His worship for days without end.

Neelakantha Shiva:
He is the Lord of the supernal world; His asterism is betelgeuse;
His throat is dark with the aalaalam that He ate; they that chant
His mystic pentad—the chief of mantras--, adore Him and come by
The true import, can (alone) behold His feet of ruddy gold.

aalaalam: Halaahalaa poison that oozed out during the churning of the ocean.

O Righteous Lord that wears the heroic anklet!
The dry and strong-mouthed ghouls standing sing Your praise;
Bhootas stand and adore You; the great crematory is
Your theatre where You dance and dance. How is it
That You sped an arrow from Your bow and caused
The triple citadels of the Asuras to get gutted with fire?

How are we to attain Him in love?

The snake that dances on His person
Will suffer none to come near it;
Moreover, all that we behold before us
Are only a row of skulls and white bones.
Besides He but rides, in delight, a bull.

The description of the cremation ground, the theater where he performs has been vividly described in the another song of KArraikAl AmmaiyAr. Such a description brings alive the other side of the cremation ground, one that we humans do not get to witness, one that KArraikAl AmmaiyAr is a part of, in possible disbelief to the mortal world as she narrates what she sees.

Excerpts from the thiruvAlangATTu mUththa thiruppadhikam:

Fat melts and wets the ground, and the long toothed and sunken eyed ghouls observe this and enact the dance of tunangkai. They look around and put out the fire of the pyres eating the corpses to their hearts content and feel delighted, it is in such a fitting crematory, holding fire in his hand that the handsome Lord dances.

Jackals tug and draw away the stinking white heads punctured by birds, owls raise a hue and cry, owlets wave their wings, barn owls stare down and frighten those who look at them, and foxes howl around in great urgency. Such is this great charnel house, and it is here that the great Lord desires to perform his dance.

It was a corpse that a ghoul was not sure of as it advanced and pointed a finger at it screaching aloud. The ghoul roared and threw a fire at it yet not being sure of what it was. Frightened by the corpse, the ghoul ran far and beats its own stomach in bewilderment, observed by many other ghouls who took to their feet in sheer fear. It is in such a crematory that the Lord in the guise of a mad man dances.

Scorched by the rising flames, charred is the firewood, brains seep out of broken crania, cacti wilt in the heat, such is the fierce crematory where the wood apple trees abound, it is indeed his place of rest. It is in this wilderness that the Lord dances, with tiger skin as his girt and a spotted antelope dangling off his shoulder, he lights up this stage with his dance of destruction.

He sports the crescent moon on his matted hair, he forever dances his twirling dance, his waist is girdled with a serpent. Who ever by His grace is able to sing and dance out the poetry of KAraikkAl Pey(ghost), one with a fiery mouth and sharp teeth, who abides in the crematory will be freed of all sins.

This is the reality of the cremation ground, a description so vivid of activities when humans leave the bodies of the dead to burn by night. As jackals depict Shakti in the form of Kali Nayan Tara, and Lord Shiva dances among ghouls who feast on corpses as they witness his fiery movements, this world beyond death is a narrative that we capture in bhakti of a very different kind.

The life and immortal presence of this Nayanar, reveals that bhakti knows no bias, that love and music for the Lord can be found even in the wierdest of places where fear reigns supreme. Her narrative reveals a world beyond us, where the nature of ghosts includes that of feeling fear and joy, where their meal is absorbing the nurishment of burning corpses, where their company is that in the presence of foxes, jackals and owls in an ambience of the night as the crackling fire eats into wood and human remains perishing in the flames bringing alive the terrific world of Aghora.

Read her complete story.

Related topics:
Shamshan Tara, a form of Kali
Kalighat - Where death meets you face to face
Kalika Mata at Kalighat, a sacred Shakti Peetha
Taraka Mantra - Passage to heaven
Manikarnika Ghat: Where life meets the world beyond

Content courtesy: shaivam.org
Picture courtesy: Metropolitan museum of Art, natarajar.blogspot.com

11.02.2008

The world of Kamakshi Amman

Archarya Muka Kavi (Mukharbhaka), the 20th Acharya of Kanci Matt in the 4th cen A.D. quotes:

"I am desirous of constantly thinking of that form that which is pleasing to those living on the banks of the Kampa river, placing the very life of the Cakora bird (which survives on drinking the rays of the moon) on her head and the very seed of eternal bliss.

I bow to that all pervading deity who is the sound of the Vedas, the waves of the Nada, the energy of the circular bindu, the moon that which was born in the world of parapada, syllables of mantra, practice of tantra, the cause of one and all in their natural condition and the effect of all in their varied forms which fill the universe."

These are one among the many stanzas sung by an ancient poet towards Kamakshi, the mother of love. His expression in his poetry vividly describe the mother, her beauty and her assets, as it would appear in reality should we also possess such divine grace (divya dristi)

Even if I had to equate divya dristi to profound visual imagination within the mind (ref:Vishnudharmottara), there definitely is more to this method of thinking and worship. We as human do imagine, we have the capability to visually fantasize of recreate within our minds, a reality quite different from what we see around us. When this imagination is not an offspring of what nature offers us (like say a hybrid creature that you would see in star wars) but is self created and bears no resemblance to what we see in reality, we have then entered this profound and evolved region of imagination.

There is more to this power that the mind is capable of, meaning, the potential of the mind/brain is far more than we have exercised upon. Different poets and saints at different times have defined the beauty of Devi, and though all of them witnessed her divine presence through the mind's eye, or imagination as we know it, they in a very uncanny way saw the very same vision. She appeared the same to all of them, meaning, if we tried hard enough, we can commune with the divine through a mechanism that can be exercised through our minds.

To improve this we have mantra, tantra, yantra, puja, bhakti etc. which condition us to pave the way for the divine to access our control centers. We need to segregate time for our minds, into mundane existence which we ideally should not place so much importance on and shift the focus towards this control center. That is why in meditation they say, control your thoughts, meaning, reduce the noise in your head so that you can hear the divine speak.

This science is beyond everything, and it cannot be proven except by personal experience and if we are really that interested to make better sense of our existence, we would take it up as a serious approach to life with every breath that passes us by. So why are we wasting time getting further stuck in this maya of mundane life when we can clearly see the method to proceed towards divinity. Why is it so tough to focus the mind on something intangible because of lack of familiarity? Why is our own inadequacy proving to be our deadliest enemy? Why are we accepting defeat before we even got started to really understanding what is beyond? Why do we think “it’s difficult, I can’t do it”?

All we need is the deep urge to want to keep looking at the Mother, melt in one’s own humility towards the presence and beauty of the mother that lives in every speck of kumkum dust that adorns her feet. Kamakshi Amman is life breath, she is energy that wakes the life in every nadi within our system, she is the energy within the circular bindu, she is the essence of the Vedas that roll out silently from Dakshinamurthy Shiva, and she is divinity unimaginable.

Isn’t that the same feeling that Archarya Muka Kavi had when he penned down his devotion into sacred texts centuries ago?