Rudraprayag: Divine experience of Lord Rudra Shiva

 Om Na Ma Shi Va Ya...

These sacred words reverberated in tune with the waves of the river Mandakini dashing forward to meet the volumes of water gushing into it from the Alaknanda. The rivers met, raising curtains of foam and walls of water sprays across the landscape as the crystal clear streams merged into each other, in union, into a song that echoed the raw presence of the Great Lord Rudra. A million suns glowed, flames in bright hue formed a halo round His head as He shined in gold. The great Lord Rudra Shiva appeared into this realm of life, pleased to feel the rhythm of these sacred syllables in the soft but deep voice of a devotee in meditation.

There was silence and calm as the waves lashed the rocks, echoing in the background and Narada Muni awakened
his mind's eye in his meditative state and witnessed this miracle. It had taken many years to call on Lord Rudra, to please him with his devotion and to ask for his wish - a wish for a perfect voice for a perfect soul. It was granted and sacred eternal music was born on earth in this realm, in the heavens, in the deva lokas and in all the celestial worlds. Music was born and the art to take it to perfection was initiated. The great Lord Rudra shook his damaru; the cosmic sound enveloped the universe drowning the sounds of the rivers into itself. The cosmic sound had taken birth in this world, music was now born.

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Kali yuga...

It's a cold wintry morning and I stand here speechless at the fork of the confluence of these gushing rivers. The brilliant rays of the sun coupled with the constant sound of crashing waves precipitates these sweet thoughts in my mind, as I stand and watch this confluence of the flowing waters at Rudraprayag.

My mind knows no mantras for it stubbornly remains blank and overwhelmed over this amazing beauty. This view is one of a kind, as I stand at the fork and watch the two rivers merge in front of me. But there is a difference. There is the feeble sound of Om Na Ma Shi Va Ya barely making its way out of my throat as I try to imbibe this spectacle. I am at unrest and I am still trying to gather myself to experience this world and wondering at the same time what would be the best way to capture it, feel it, in the limited time that I am here. I wonder how I could change my reality, to drop everything and come and stay here because I can feel something very strong in the air, here at Rudraprayag. And I try feebly to grasp this moment, feeling inadequate at the same time that as the supreme energies call, my state is so unprepared to imbibe it.  

The air is chill and yet the sun shines warm, the waters rumble and yet there is rhythm to be felt. The stones erode and yet they shine so smooth and pure. The waters are clear and yet there is color in their depth. He is fierce and yet there is warmth in His formlessness.  

I remembered the sacred texts again... they ran...Rudra, the aghora swarupa of Lord Shiva, the one who is fierce, red eyed, with blazing flames around his flowing locks, sporting a snake for a yagnopavita, decked in gold, holding a skull cap for his bowl, a damaru that he plays and a deadly trishul that he aims head downwards ready to strike through any evil. And then I looked on at the crashing waves in front of me...

No, Rudra Shiva was not all that... not scary... not aghora... not ughra

The form of Rudra echoes every where, in the waters, in the stones, in the white lines that form in the waves of the two rivers flowing furiously by. This heaven is dazzled by the sheen of these clear waters that make up the robes of the Great Lord Rudra and I stare on into the volumes of water that rush away through the hillsides. The thunderous sound of these waters constantly echo the cosmic sound, the primordial sound created by His damaru. White stones are scattered around the riverbed as the rivers run low this winter, each polished stone reminds me of the kabala that the Great Lord Rudra holds in his hand, as he walks through the shamshan. The sun shines through these waves and feels like a million suns shine at me proclaiming His brilliant presence. The rivers flow on as the waves form a trident the tip of which aims right at me, where I stand. Am I the ignorant, egoistic, evil one?

There is raw power and energy in this water as it gushes by almost making me feel the power of His presence enveloping this sacred river bank. But why is my mind closed? Why am I trying to look with my eyes and not feel with my heart?

He is the power, unthinkable, unimaginable, unconquerable, raw wild natural power that is beyond my capacity to understand. He is the all pervading, that which surrounds my humble self in this present. He shines in gold like a million suns, he walks these waters as he steps on each white kabala and he dances to the tune of the cosmic sound he plays with his damaru, the same tune that lies hidden in the flowing waters going by. The form of Rudra Shiva pulsates in this sacred spot, everything echoes his presence. How then am I not able to still see Him?

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Fated Pradosham at the Sacred Shrine of Ukhimath

In the depth of her splendor
That covers my soul
Do I see the power of Mahakala
Within her sacred womb.
The heavens reveal
In true beauty and reverence
Lord Shiva and his graceful consort
And behold the supreme presence
Of the Shrine of Kedar.

With every step that progressed towards the shrine door, my heart beat faster. I couldn't cope with this excitement but I enjoyed every pleasurable moment of it. It was like a child jumps up in sublime enjoyment when it discovers treasure. Every bit of new vision sent my heart pounding.

This feeling awakens in me a child like happiness because I feel I belong here, I am a part of this pantheon, and I am present here and now in full consciousness at this magnificent sabha, which in my mind is real heaven. My mind and soul now have blended into the subtle reality of this divine presence within this symbolic world.

The shrine chamber of Ukhimath temple is covered in divinity. Lord Mahakala sports his manly mustache etched beautifully over silver with an elegant snake hood covered in flowers above him. The sacred shrine of Kedar sits closely behind with miniature parasols of silver carefully covering its shrine. How joyous was this moment to behold the stark male attire of the Great Lord Mahakala at the central shrine and the small and elegant Kedar shrine in silver, all within the same room. Behind these sacred symbols of divinity, stood the glaring sculpture of Kala Bhairava on the wall with his big silver laden eyes staring straight at me. The Kalabhairava here is very similar in flavor to that at Pashupatinath, Nepal.

The presence of Kala Bhairava and Mahakala as the primary shrines at this temple of Ukhimath, echoed the ancient tantrik rituals of the night. This was a great seat of tantrik practice, a little different from Tungnath but strangely similar also. The depths of Ukhimath temple's ambiance began to reveal itself to me. In the warmth of her peaceful garbha griha was housed the history of a serious and intriguing mystic past. 

With her inner shrine explicitly presenting more forms of Shiva than one, Mahakala's gentle look took me all the way back to Ujjain. Mahakala is probably the only form of Lord Shiva who sports a mustache. As I advanced to the adjoining mandapa, there were exquisite sculptures of Shiva and Parvati adorning this little room. The Shiva Parvati idols in copper have their own charm and Nandi stands in bronze at the center of this ardha mandapa.

Darkness had set in, the shrine doors had previously been closed in the early hours of the evening. We patiently waited for the priest to finish his endless conversation with another devotee, and open the sanctum to give us a better view. Little did he know that I had a plan to sit there longer than he thought. This was the most profound moment of the evening. Pradosham hour was coming to an end and the Lord Mahakala made sure we were there for it. He gave us darshan, as the priest came to open the doors to the shrine.

The grandeur of the inner chamber was alive and brimming as I sat at the door step quickly taking out my wicks and lamps. The ghee was stone cold and digging into its depths was a task. We lit two diyas and with all humbleness we presented Vilvam leaves that we had brought all the way from Chennai as a small gift from us. We stayed there for some time and the exclusivity of the moment made us feel even more special. For an active temple like this one, during the moment of pradosham at the Lord's feet with only a priest with us who didn't push us out because it was getting late, this was completely enjoyable.

What a difference this was from the rest of the temples across India that we had visited so far. The silence of this temple echoed my voice as I sang out the mantras. I felt blessed as my voice reverberated within the grand walls of this Sabha. All the heavens were there to listen to these prayers as the priest joined in the singing too. Rudram, rumbled through the walls as sacred vilva fell over the shrines. The Lord of Kedar had received our gift. I could have danced around the courtyard!! We took another 15 minutes well past closing time. The priest favored us saying it was God's will that we should visit and light ghee lamps. Our lamps were placed inside the inner shrine, to shine through the night as I bowed to the lord in all thankfulness.

This experience was strangely one of a kind in these times. There was no noise, there was no corruption but goodwill, there was no pushing around but patience, there was no haste but worship, there was no argument but respect for a devotee's time with the Lord. And all of heaven was open, listening to my heart sing out. What else could I have asked for!

Photo source: Unknown from the internet


Ukhimath Temple - A Silent Bride in the Moonlight.

Paulo Coelho had once said, if you want something the whole universe conspires to get it for you. Sure enough! It was pretty much the same story with us.

Tungnath was the highlight of the day and the related ecstasy didn't allow us to descend at the appropriate hour. Winter in the mountains is a little different. The world is awake as long as there is daylight and once the foothills plunge into darkness there is no life, no movement, no activity.

The descent down Tungnath was even tougher in the slippery ice and we paid for it with a precious hour of daylight. Exhausted and a little disappointed that this great moment had come to an end we were in a partial mind to go to Ukhimath. As the car swerved along the rough hillside road with occasional thrills of hanging off the cliff edge into the gaping darkness of the valley below the driver decided to drive up to Ukhimath temple to check if it was still open.

The biting cold, the exhaustion and the drunken bliss of Tungnath, made Ukhimath that much more inaccessible in the night within our minds. And yet, as the eyes strained to keep open, we hazily saw the night lights of Guptkashi on the opposite hill make dots of the letter OM floating in the dense darkness of the surrounding forests. It was two nights away from Poornima, and the moonlight was slowly beginning to awaken the silent beauty of the night among the hills. Dotted lights skirted by, and the road was bumpy as ever with sharp turns as it went winding along the hill side. The landscape looked like the sky had opened itself straight to us merging with the star studded hillsides appearing like a completely enveloping universe as we floated through it, it was magical. We drove up to a halt to see the bright light of Ukhimath shine over its finial.

Ukhimath was a different world. Living, breathing with energy and pulsating within its nest over the hillside. Silence and darkness had descended over its ambiance. This Pradosham day was blessed and I don't know how to explain it. It was not about visiting a temple, it was not about making it on time, it was not about lighting a lamp to the great Lord Mahakala... it was the melting exhaustion, the extended beauty of the ancient world and an even higher bliss when I beheld this quaint temple clothed in color so unique that it appeared like a coy bride in this star studded night. Words cannot explain the excitement, through my confusion of wanting to visit this temple in daylight to observe it closely.

Ukhimath temple courtyard is a place I would like to be in forever. We had barely made it to the temple, as we asked our way around to the courtyard to be faced with colorful glitter of this small temple so coy and shrouded in subtle blended light. 

Ukhimath awakened my fantasies about the past. The style of this courtyard, the presence of wood and stone instead of cement, the walls that just hid the surrounding hills from us, and the dancing maidens on the walls who entertained the heavenly celestial world dotting the faceted walls of the temple, plunged my imagination into its finest state. To amalgamate one self into the real, where imagination takes over the present, the aura of the place envelops me and I forget that I belong to NOW [defined by time and change of this era] is a relishing experience. Ukhimath temple appears like a maiden resplendent in rich garish colors, decked in electric jewelry, diamond studded and glowing, draped in bright colors, subtly teasing in the dimly lit night.

This temple lies coy in the shadows of her courtyard like a graceful maiden waiting to be wedded, revealing bits of her color as we strangers walk around discovering every wall that protects her. Gasping for breath, filling my hungry eyes with this splendor, I bathed myself in her resonant beauty as I made my way into her inner shrine.

How dream like is this moment!

To think that I had previously scanned the landscape as the driver pointed out the roof of Ukhimath temple that teased my eyes with her presence on the opposite hill the previous day, I was standing here and now waiting for the celestial world to welcome me into her world. My heart had been excited to visit and though Tungnath took over my consciousness for the entire day, Ukhimath presented herself in the dim light of the moonlit night, most gracefully.

Am I blessed to be here to witness her presence in full beauty and elegance and bathe myself in her ambience. There is silence, there is warmth and yet, as the chilling winds whistle through her courtyard there is subtle presence of life brimming within her walls, awakening my soul and challenging my emotions that lie dormant with me.

To be continued...


Sacred hour of Pradosham at Tungnath

To visit Tungnath in the bleak winter is an opportunity, to make it to the temple on Pradosham day is a bonus. It was that blessed day in our lives that the weather proved to be friendly and the snow at Tungnath had not entirely set in.

The climb to Tungnath proved to be extremely energy sapping, 3500 feet up slope in 3 kms was a lot more tougher than the endless walk to Tirupati. This added to the sub zero temperatures atop the Himalayan foothills where the water didnt flow to the end of its fall but froze half way. This land, these hills, which holds Ukhimath on one peak, Guptkashi on another, Kalimath on a third and Tungnath on the fourth, not to mention Kedarnath which was not in our radar yet... are breath-taking and beautiful.

We had finally managed to trek all the way up. The experience left us speechless, confused and energized as it seemed more like a physical achievement than a spiritual haven to visit. The real Tungnath fills the mind with excitement at the first sight of the flag atop its finial. Gasping for breath and not even having scaled 3/4ths of the distance left us tired with a hollow in the pit of our stomachs but at the same time the mind and the eyes were filled with the most beautiful panoramic view of the Himalayan peaks. Such extravaganza, such virgin beauty lay sprawling all around us as we attempted the next few feet still gasping for breath.

Dry, cold winds sing in the ears, towering peaks appear stark and naked clothed in snow and as we necked up with the range, the temple on this formidable peak looked unreachable as probably the highest ever point. The warmth of the sun was welcome, the feeble heat burned us as we made it up to this quaint little settlement precariously perched on the hilltop.

Why would a group of people in ancient times, want to brave these bleak temperatures and climb all the way up here to build this magnificient temple with the exact rules of architecture and iconography as those found in Bengal or even Madhurai for that matter. Why would there be a seat of serious learning secluded so high up on a mountain almost inaccessible to all in these bleak winters to not just preserve a tradition of deep thinking but to make it a way of life at sub zero temperatures.

I stood here high up on this mountain, having being robbed off my belongings, my identity and having no connection what so ever with the known world. I was lost, in this silent world with no phone, no internet, no money and no identity. I was myself, an individual here and now, in the present, in this beautiful moment that appeared so magical. I was an entity, with no name, no history, no background, no connection and no possession. I was the one, truly detached from all familiarity staring up at this half ruined temple wondering about this blissful relationship I was at this moment sharing with Lord Shiva, whose presence echoed in almost all the stones that made this ancient temple.

I am part of this ancient rule, I am an entity in this ancient world, I am the mantra that flows out loud as I place Vilva leaves gently on this Sahasraha Linga that sits firm at the temple door. I am the lamp I light, I am the sweetness in this moment, I am the only reality that brings this small gift of ghee lamps and vilva to the Lord atop this sacred mountain this bleak winter morning.

The sun slowly starts to descend, the cold winds take over as my mind finds its way back to the steep path way that brought me up here. My heart flows with love for this land, for these mountains and for the purity in this air. There is no person, there is no aim, there is no thought... there is just pure love that flows this evening at this sacred hour at the great temple of Tungnath.

To be continued...

Photo courtesy: unknown from google images