Fire, the mystical path to the other world

Srinivasan sat down and took a deep breath, and lit the lamps to the Lord. He stared at the flame catching on, while the fire grew gracefully into a small droplet of light. He watched the flame, dancing around on its wick but steady at the same time it seemed to give a mystical look to itself. He watched and wondered, this little drop of light appeared when he lit a match. This little drop of light lives while we feed it and disappears when the oil or ghee is over. Where does it go? It just seems to vanish into thin air, into that unknown world to which we have no ticket.

He started his prayer and as he progressed he watched the flame stay completely still on the wick. There was warmth in it and a silent magic that made he revere it more than take that little flame for granted. It had the power to make or break this puja, and what ever happened, this flame, he was taught, must never die during a puja.

This new perspective quite changed the entire equation of worship. It was no longer a mechanical task of lighting a fire because that was the done thing. It was now the starting point of a dialogue between him and that mystical world out there. The path of light had been created, he now needed to walk it and learn to light his inner flame. Sweet words rolled out, the rhythm got set and he sang out in praise of the Lord. Pure water washed the throne on which the Lord sat. Oil, honey and sandalwood bathed the Lord in turns. The Shiva Linga now looked so pure and divine in the light. The flame circled the Lord, and as it did he drew divine symbols. It felt like a grid of fire and light was the path to getting closer to the divine on the other side of this flame. Streaks of light drew a mesmerizing grid, symbolized by fire that would grant the seeker the divya drishti to see the Lord in his real self. How pure should this light be, and how sacred is this flame that it can purify the nature of the thoughts that go through his mind while he sings out these divine verses?

Srinivasan was intoxicated with this bliss that covered him, with the thoughts that ran through his mind. He could stay this way forever. He stared back at the light and thought about how the ancient sages performed their yagna. This small flame of light gave rise to a roaring fire. A roaring fire that grew with every offering made with ghee and mantra prayer. This flame was capable of doing many more things than just be a flame for 3 hours.

Great sages have performed miracles with this little light, they have created being both good and bad, enabling them to rise out of these flames. They have even challenged Lord Shiva with the creation of the grotesque red haired dwarf, Apasmara Purusha to fight him. A small flame in a lamp definitely has the capability to drive any being from the other world into this one. How then could he have taken this flame for granted?

Fire has made its way to various references in the scriptures. It appears in the form of a Jyothir lingas on this divine earth. 12 sacred shrines hold this very same flame within them.  What appears to be a hard, cold and rocky stone outside actually hides its potential molten white flame within. Is fire the life energy within them? Is it that which is referred to so carelessly as Prana? Fire is what is known to us, and it probably has more forms that can be felt but cannot be seen.

Srinivasan got up to do his final arti, raising the flame to the Lord as the culmination of the puja. He fed the wick with a little more ghee and left it to die gracefully. The path to the other world was now closed.

This little drop of light, this little flame that illuminated this chamber, has the potential of far greater powers undiscovered, and its significance fades back into history to be read as a mythological event that once took place in ancient days. 

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The definition of goodness

What would it be like if Kannappa Nayanar lived in these times and still managed to achieve his goal!

Let’s revisit his lifestyle in the backdrop of the world as it stands today.

If Kannappa, alias Chinna was born into a tribal family in today's times, he wouldn’t have caught your attention or mine purely because he belonged to a lesser society and might not have been as rich and been probably uneducated as well. Further more, if they continued to be hunters he would carry a gun, which would either be licensed or otherwise and he would be killing deer or other animals which are most probably endangered species.

Rolling back the life of Kannappa Nayanar, he was celebrated in his young age to have the valor of great king since he could take on a tiger single handedly at a very young age. If he tried that in these times, the "Save the tiger" campaign would have him behind bars.

He was born to his parents who were celebrated to be great administrators of their society. He grew up to be a courageous man but how does that matter – Where is the money? That fateful day when he went out hunting and found the Shiva temple on the hill, was the day he gave up his parents. To anyone, in today's times in any society, its so not the right thing to do. How irresponsible of a son, being the only child, to forsake his aging parents only to go and live else where. He was so completely wrong.

Meanwhile, Kannappa goes hunting, shoots down a deer or two, fills his mouth with water taken from a half dried up river and heads to the temple. He is only met with shock over the fact that he brought a bloody offering. Dripping all the way he makes it to the inner sanctum in an endless queue [he doesn’t have money to buy a quicker darshan]! He is met with disgust, horror and complete judgment for having come and stood in the queue with his bloody offering. But knowing Kannappa, he doesnt care. He simply keeps walking on into the temple to be met with the corrupt Brahmin priest who doesn’t let him go any further!

Such offerings are not allowed inside the temple and this blasphemy shall not be forgiven. None the less, lets assume he still made it into the temple every day with his offering he wouldn’t be allowed beyond the ardha mandapa to even try his best to do abhishekam to the Lord. Let’s sanction even that, should he have managed to get really inside he would have been thrown behind bars if he tried giving am abhishekam of the kind he had in his mind!

And despite breaking all the rules of having given up his parents, having killed endangered animals, having stood in a line with a bloody offering and having tried breaking the bars to do his abhishekam by pouring the water from his mouth on to the sacred Linga he still manages to frequent this temple.

One fine day, while standing in the queue he notices the eyes of the Lord bleeding on the Linga. He jumps the queue, to be met by the temple guards who hold him back and he struggles to get loose and manages to run into the main shrine. He takes the trishul hoisted nearby and digs his eye out and offers it to the Lord! There are screams outside and people stare on horrified at this daring act and no one knows how to react!!

And then the second eye bleeds and he takes up the Trishul again and places his foot over the Linga. This is it!! The last of the rebellious act! The crowd pounds inside to stop him from doing this complete act of defiance. Before the people, guards, police and all can get to him Lord Shiva appears and He is blessed!

What makes Kannappa Nayanar a good man? He did everything wrong. Till the Lord sanctioned his act, he was the worst one could have seen in terms of rebellion and non conformism to social rule despite the fact that he did it in complete devotion. Did anyone notice his devotion while we watch in horror over his acts of slaughter, and defiance towards the general rule of the public! Then why do we have so much garbage in our heads? The Lord proved us all wrong! It was the right thing to do!!!

Then how do we define goodness? How do we ascertain the rules of goodness when it can be proven wrong at any time? Isnt it scary to see intense spiritualism and devotion going in exactly the opposite direction of conforming rules of social living. How do we evolve when we got ourselves into this chaotic mess of existence? Is the only point of salvation the fact that Lord Shiva appeared and blessed him?

And even then we are so low, we wouldn’t learn. What’s next! This temple will sanction all devotees to come with offering of meat and blood because this is what granted Kannappa Nayanar his immortality! Is that all we learned from this episode? We would end up killing more deer, but we would scarcely give our eyes up for the Lord.

What is the definition of devotion, or goodness or spiritualism? And how are we planning to conduct ourselves going forward when we have so much to unlearn?