Lost among ancient hills, overpowered by the most popular shrine at Tirupati, the endless highway winds around low hills and the green countryside of Andhra Pradesh leading a seeking devotee straight to the temple gates of Lord Shiva at Kalahasti.
Among the noise and clatter, with vendors selling flowers to those selling Rahu Ketu puja to officials offering special darshan, Kalahasti has every sign of a living temple today. In the midst of all this noise, and wading through half of India’s moving population on foot, finding our way through the maze of metal walkway, the freedom of Kalahasti has long gone giving way to just “one way traffic”. Yet there is peace here, yet there silence if only we care to hear it. As people pay through to see the Lord, getting into occasional wars right in front of the shrine, shouting abuses in the interior halls of the sacred temple, this is the other India, the other Hinduism that clearly shows the lack of spiritualism among the ignorant masses who visit.
And yet, peace can be won. A trained mind that can concentrate is all one needs to switch off the sound of the madness and switch onto the sound of the Lord’s breath within his shrine chamber. Here it is a completely different world. The shrine chamber well decorated with silver plated exteriors flanked by two dwarapalas and two priests houses a spectacular concept within. The air here is pure, the experience is overwhelming and the emotions pour into a river of sacred syllables that flow over all the senses that cut out the worldly noise. This is the entrance to the divine presence of the Lord of Kailasa. The ardha manadapa (vestibule) is a room large enough to capture this essence that emanates from within, for what lies within is much more than just wind, just vayu… the Lord breathes here, he lives here, he is here.
Nandi, sits at his door and look up to him in silence, his breath in rhythmic patterns recites the Panchakshara as it cuts through the noise to reach the Lord, a divine dialog of which we are just “not” a part but also fail to understand that we should not even cross this sacred space. And here I stand right in the middle of it with no choice but to view the Lord within.
The air is still, the tiny lamps flicker making a halo of light around this extraordinary linga that is not made out of black stone. A narrower shaft rises out of the peetha, with the representations of a spider at its bottom and two stumps on it that give the feeling of gaja rupa, the form of an elephant. Rising straight up to cover the Lord’s head is the serpent power, a five hooded snake. These sacred emblems are not directly seen, as they are covered by the jeweled starry crown that the Lord wears to protect us, the Navagraha Kavacha. The navagrapha, the nine planets who adorn Him, are represented by nine strips of sacred metal, with three stars in each row representing a star. The whole kavacha invoked in one’s worship, with mantra recited thrice, one for each star brings the sacred count to 27, blessing the devotee with lesser pain through their karmic lives.
The Lord represents the universe, the living emblem within which we live, he is breath that pulsates within this chamber, the only witness being the hanging lamp whose flame never dies, never stops a dance, sways as he breaths to indicate to the world that he IS, he lives, he resides here. As the great moment arrives, devotees stand is queues, waiting for those sacred few seconds where they witness a picture, not too easy to catch.
This is the divine abhishekam, the only chance where we can see the Lord in his form, where the Navagraha Kavacha is removed and placed alongside. In the dimly lit interior, with priests silently pouring sacred water over the Lord, who towers within the center of his chamber, this view is breathtaking. He stands on a stark square peetha, made of stone and rises in the center of a lit up interior. The water flows down his sides, with a million lights flickering on its shaft as it flows down, covering his divine being. The lamp dances on, as the cool air within brings a strange peace a strange fragrance to the approaching devotees. The air is still and yet in all the noise one can hear the divine sound of Panchakshara, Om Na Ma Shi Va Ya resounding within the walls. In tune is the damaru, the sound of creation as one imagines Nandikeshwara play the mridangam. In these divine sounds, is embedded my breath, a rhythm that slows down to imbibe the beauty of this place.
The mind is silent, the sacred Mrityunjaya rhythmically rambles on in my mind, followed by the Rudram that plays music in my mind as the sounds of creation get louder. The breath of the Lord, sends ripples through the air, pulsates with my being as I leave everything in the known world behind. This is life, this is reality, this is being in the presence of creation, that which never ends. This is the world of Lord Shiva, one of silent energy, one of real truth, one that transforms an ever noisy temple seeped in corruption into a divine chariot that floats through the air, occasionally nudged by the divine breath of the Lord within the chamber.
As the bhakta walks out, with the heart floating in this divine chariot, the world in the outer hall way personifies divinity, through all the jailed illusion. Shiva lingas adorn the precincts, redefining the glory of the lord. As the sun penetrates through a small window in the west wall, and bathes a silent linga seated on its pedestal, it’s the only form I can touch and perform namaskaram to. Holding the peetha with my hands and placing my head at his divine feet, in complete surrender to the Lord, I pray for enlightenment. This moment is pure, he is near and he is listening to the feeble voice that comes out from within. I wish I could have hugged him, and stayed there to just talk to him. I move on as I am controlled by Kala, by time. Each corner is divine, graced by Kalabhairava who stands handsome with his dog and trishul, with a bowl in his hand. Near him sit the Sapta Matrika, or Sapta Kannigai elegantly seated displaying a certain wilderness in their posture. In the south corner lies the divine spatica, crystal clear and shining. This is the divine pantheon of surrounding Lord Shiva and his divine consort. This is the sacred beauty of Kalahasti, this is the heavenly world on earth. We are so close and yet in our minds we are so far.
All I can think of is praying to the Lord to ward away my troubles!
Grahanaam aadhi radhithyo Loka Rakshana Karaka |
Vishama sthana sambhootham Peedam harathu may ravi ||
Please steal away my problem O Sun, the first of all the planets that adorn the Lord’s chest. You are the cause of protecting the world and you are the cause of trouble by the position you hold at the time of my birth.
This prana feels trouble but isn’t it the essence of life, trouble IS because I am born, trouble IS because I don’t accept, trouble IS because I desire more and more. Isn’t it unfortunate that I don’t desire the presence of the Lord in my conscious life as much as I desire something that doesn’t exist? Doesn’t this make me look really miserable?
I stand here, an ignorant fool who thinks I know how to live. I stand here a coward because I cannot face life. I stand here a human because I am limited and inadequate. I stand here in this birth because I am still imperfect. I stand here with all my sorrows because I am Apasmara.