Reflections on the divine Guru

In this world of noise
I am left speechless
In this space within my mind
I am plundered by a million thoughts
In this journey to realize you
Am I lost in a sea of desires
In this search for enlightenment
I fall through the darkness of ignorance
Hounded by all my fears
I cling on to this single flame of divine faith
In the blackness of my reality
I look up to you, O Guru,
to help and guide me through

This is my world, suffocating, with thoughts undesired and endless events creatively stitched together by fate to make me realize the futility of this life and yet I get sucked into their elaborate web of occurrences. I jump from one event to the next accepting some and rejecting others with uncontrolled emotions, cursing the Gods for my existence, wishing every moment that it may be made better.

With a heavy heart I look at this lamp, whose warm flame flickers unconditionally bringing light into my otherwise dark world. There it is, so gentle and warm, so pure and calm as it glows on. It is a tiny drop of whiteness, of a heavenly bright light that seems to magically appear when I desire and disappear when I dont care enough. It has the power to light up my room, and even more, it lights up the darkness in my life. This is the divine light that shows me the path to the other side, more promising and magical than my predictable existence in this world.

I have been on that path before, it enchanted me with its beauty, with startling revelations and with divine promises of a mystical universe unknown to anyone who dares not take this path. It gave me peace and yet a strange excitement to look forward to more experiences of a different kind. Strewn with hardships, nerve racking experiences that could leave me destroyed for life; it dotted my world with small miracles that intoxicated my soul and gracefully ship me across to the other side.

Ah! What a world it is, embedded deep within my head with experiences changing the landscape of my thoughts making me believe that my imaginary world inside was fueled by these strange events outside, making me truly believe in this magic of life. As I faded away from the world of other people around me, as I drifted into my being, the world outside feels like a fruitless tree withstanding the illusion of torturous times.

I want my world back again, I want my divine Lord to dance holding this light of joy, this fire of divine knowledge. I want to feel his energy, his swaying presence in my heart lighting up the million flames of enlightenment deep within my soul. In the silence of this world, I want to listen to the rhythmic beat of his feet, look up in awe towards him and quench my mind's desire to observe him as his jatas sway and his damaru beats along as he moves.

I stare into the flames of this lamp, into the whiteness of this light, into the glow of its presence, and worship its power as the creator, preserver and destroyer of all that thrives in its presence.

Oh Lord, my divine Guru, guide me through these times and bring me back to this path of love and divine grace. Help me contemplate and reflect on your divine presence and fill my mind with your divine thoughts.

To this divine light, to the great Guru who shines in its flames, I bow in reverence hoping to see your true form some day.


Search for the real Guru

I have had many people ask me whether I have a guru, whether I have been initiated, and whether I have had spiritually uplifting experiences. While I can sense their curiosity, it has not been very easy to answer these questions. I understand that we all want to know "the path", we want to learn it fast and we are not ready to be careful about treading this path. There is hunger to want to know, in some people its a lot more intense.

I have been initiated into Shiva worship in the traditional Brahmanical order. While having studied quite a few of the influential paths of Shaivism, namely the cults of Aghories, Tantriks and Virashaivas I have come to understand them as a whole as well as individually. I respect them and their methods though I might not necessarily take to the path myself until that Sadhana is a must for my own salvation with no other alternative. There are disturbing elements in each of these paths when observed in their unadulterated potency and its for our mind to accept the ways of the world or reject it and face repercussions both good or bad.

But Sadhana typically starts with the initiation from a Guru. They say we shouldn't search for him but he will come on his own to us. Well, does the waiting get tough then? That's probably the time we resort to following self proclaimed Gurus in today's world and hope to find peace in their teachings. What's missing in such cases is the personal attention we want in these cases. What we don’t realize is, when we are not "ready" the Guru will never come. Preparation for a Guru is most important to get started. 

The first Guru we come in contact with in our lifetimes are our parents. They set the ball rolling giving us insight into the prescribed path that we would most probably take through our lives and seldom change it. And hence the first initiation has begun. There is no ritual in particular except for the male child maybe. Our search for the next Guru begins when we come to the age of understanding life. We want to dive deeper and understand the science better, of what is possible within our capacity.

The typical route from here is the confused path of ritual worship - a disciplined methodology of dos and don’t with no reasoning to explain why. While on one side the heart encourages this, the mind looks for logical reasoning which might not be immediately apparent. The questions arise and sure enough they don’t have convincing answers. Do we at this point hang on to the path or change or give up and look for the undefined universal God?

In my opinion understanding ritual worship is like learning a language. We don’t understand the nuances of grammar or the idiosyncrasies, yet we hold on to it hoping we will make good masters of it some day. We do not reject language because we didn’t attempt to learn it.

In my personal experience and understanding, at this stage its good to hold on to ritual worship and follow it consistently even if we don’t understand it initially. Its up to us to read up and dig deep to understand what we are doing, rather than doing it mechanically and feel like a parrot reciting mantra. We most often expect someone else to teach us the meaning and do not find a reasonable Guru to explain this vast science; we have little time to do this on our own.

If we do this right, there is a good chance of attaining a spiritual high at this point, reaching a level of sublime experience with the supreme in a small way and getting enchanted by the turn of events in our lives. This is probably the time we are taking to prepare ourselves for the Guru's arrival into our lives. Following the ritual path is a must to go to the next step, but it is effective only when we approach it with Bhakti rather than mechanical action with no comprehension of what we are doing.

The next misconception is that the Guru will show up in human form and speak to us in a language we speak in. Thats where we make the biggest mistake. The first criteria of eligibility towards getting a Guru, is that we in our individual capacity are prepared to be a pupil.

The true pupil has single pointed intense faith in a path with no room for deviation. This path is well understood by him/her and not a result of mass teaching of the community they belong to. At this stage, the pupil is ready to disassociate from the community [herd culture] and walk towards the lonely path of self realization. The pupil understands detachment as a reality, and though they might be in the midst of people, they move towards looking at them with detached compassion rather than possessive love and expectations. This feeling of course is not as overwhelming in the beginning as it is at the end of this path, but the pupil gets to feel the crux of what is expected. The pupil has now decided while living in the middle of this chaos, they don’t quite belong to it anymore and the journey towards understanding the inner self now becomes a breathing reality. The pupil is ready to surrender to the supreme force.

In the silence of their mind, in the void of their being and in complete surrender, the pupil awaits the arrival of the Guru. If luck has it, the Guru will be present in human form at that time. The gyana of the way ahead is mostly transmitted through touch or sight or in silence but never through speech as sound is a lesser path of communication. If the Guru is not physically present, the gyana is arrived at in the mind. It just happens, and the pupil is subconsciously directed by the power of the thoughts they harbor in the mind. This is when the pupil transitions from religion to spiritualism. From here on ritual has no value, it has led the pupil to the doors of the master.

The Guru appears in the subtle world of their mind to direct them and lead them in their path. The path is never easy and surely has no room for personal bias. It can test the pupil through tough times, with unhappy experiences to force the pupil to detach from what is around them or it could be through comfort as well. Either way, the pupil realizes that what is around them in the exterior world doesn’t matter any more - both good and bad. They have now learned to accept all the twists and turns in their lives.

One of the most mysterious forms of experiencing the presence of a Guru in a "non human form" is the sculptural depiction of Adi Shankaracharya at Kedarnath. While to most people it might have looked like a symbolic representation of his Dandam, this form of his hand holding the sacred symbol of the Shankara, is believed to appear in the mind's eye when a pupil worships this Guru. 

In this search for the supreme, when the Guru accepts us as an eligible pupil and the divine education begins, this experience is far more overwhelming than any other we may have experienced before in our lifetimes. It is potent, magical, and mysterious and strictly rule driven and supersedes all the scientific theories we have come across so far. This is a different reality, unexplored and excitable on a different plane. The Guru transforms into a God like being and leads the way, while we - the pupil - pick up the reins of Bhakti and ride on this path to supreme bliss.


Musings on the Philosophy of a great Sage

 Photo Courtesy: bhagwan-ramana-maharshi.blogspot.com

There are some arguments that stop even before they have started and one that glares at me is the continues debate of that which is unreal vs that which is real. Pure spiritual philosophies define the real world as unreal which is the basic argument that people agree to disagree on even before they tried to understand the potential deeper meaning of the words.

Here is an eye opening statement of Bhagavan Ramana Maharishi that helps me understand this phenomenon a little better from my perspective.

Quoting from "The Teachings of Ramana Maharishi In His Own Words" by Author Osborne:

"The world is perceived as an apparent objective reality when the mind is externalized, thereby abandoning its identity with the Self. When the world is thus perceived the true nature of the Self is not revealed; conversely, when the Self is realized the world ceases to appear as an objective reality."

Let me first start with the meaning of externalizing and internalizing the mind. We live in 2 states of the mind all the time, that which we stitch into the external world around us, which we call "real" and that which is a figment of our imagination and perception which is apparently internal and "unreal" from our own perspective.

To put this in a practical example, the real world could be defined as what my boss expects me to do at work tomorrow and the unreal world is my apparently realistic imagination of how beautiful Lord Shiva Nataraja looks in the great hall of Chidambaram when I imagine Him through my devotional mind. As I am extremely connected to the external world, it is very difficult for the mind to state it as unreal and try and connect to the "Self", hence the external world appears as the apparent objective reality. In case, in all sincerity I made the dance of Lord Shiva Nataraja all real in my mind and enjoyed the blissful moment of viewing his divine presence in my mind, that world built on the river of Bhakti is far more real than a distant boss I may or may not meet tomorrow.

The next word I would like to explain is what the Self is. This of course is my understanding and purely my perspective, and I may be wrong :). To my understanding and realization, the Self is the definition of ME, at this present moment in time, with no thoughts that cloud my mind, with no intellect that defines my ego, with no rules that define my identity, with no relationships that govern my role, and with no possessions that define my earthly existence. I am free off the world, I am free off society, I am free off my ego, I am free off man made rules and I possess nothing. When the mind tunes itself to this thinking for even 5 minutes and connects with this reality, I have touched the Self, that is the real ME. Hence the world now ceases to appear, it is non existent, and therefore not real.

This explanation in simpler terms defines the deeper truth of what the Great Ramana Maharishi might have tried to indicate, but now, there is the other argument of how do we call an ever changing world as unreal and illusionistic specially when the changes are visible right before our eyes?

Let’s revisit this statement of the illusion in this so called real world. Let’s take the step back and view the history of this country and its people across the ages. We have had a colorful past, there have been enough battles, there is enough diversity in language and life style, and yet the religious nature of Hinduism in the country is intact, and as ancient as ancient can get surpassing all the other world religions in terms of time and tolerance to withstand any form of destruction.

As Vedanta explains, that which changes is unreal and that which remains unchanged with the tolerance of time is real. People have come and gone, generations have changed, dynasties have been wiped out and replaced and yet the basic religious identity hardly got shattered by these blows. Isnt the faith of Hinduism, this way of life, this art of spiritualism actually real that it didn’t depend on any one human being or time for its sustenance? The thought of Lord Shiva is as powerful today as it was in the Indus valley ages. The thought of Vishnu is as profound now as it was during the Aryan age [If there was a disputed Aryan period at all?!]

Change is not permanent, and that is best explained by the recent turmoil brought in by the wealth revealed after centuries in the ancient temple of Lord Padmanabha Swamy. The wealth belongs to no one; the wealth in our system of rules still has great value, without an owner. Our rules don’t define what to do with this wealth, but this wealth certainly reeks fear into people about who will manage it and how justly they will be honest to the Lord's earthly possessions and hopefully it will not go into the wrong hands. The wealth cannot be used [to be fair to all] and therefore much as it is of great value, it is as good as sand for it belongs to no one.

Conceptually, what good has "Change" brought to this newly found wealth at an ancient temple? Is Lord Padmanabhaswamy suddenly that much more important because of the wealth he now has revealed to us as we perceive it through our minds? He always had it, we found His wealth now! This wealth was illusionistic and conceptual till it was brought to the surface, and now it controls the mind a lot more than the Bhakti that rules the devotees mind to Lord Padmanabhaswamy. He is no longer the Great divine being who rests in the enigmatic ocean of time, he is now the owner of Rs 90000 crores which will again disappear with time, but Lord Padmanabha Swamy as a concept will remain even if this temple is ravaged by time. 

Its a matter of time, the wealth that was once open treasure was buried for more than a century, and is now revealed and will be buried again. As we have seen before, what will remain is the unchanging principle of spiritualism defined by the existence of the great Trinity, by the spiritual presence of the Gods who rule the Indian mindset. We are part of the change, the physical body will give itself up, its the astral body that will bail us out to the next level in our spiritual journey. The change as we perceive it is limited to this life, the unchanging is the Atman that pervades the space and will leave the physical body at will survive the individual after death.

To the great Sage Ramana Maharishi, I bow in all humility for these divine teachings.


The Mysterious Yakshini: Suratha

The construct of Hindu philosophy and the roadmap to Nirvana in the Hindu way brings to us a pantheon of Gods that look supremely large in number but actually boil down to just a handful. The misunderstanding of large numbers come from the many names we encounter in the scriptures, sometimes not realizing they belong to the same God or Goddess. There is a hierarchy and every deity has his/her place in this vast heaven of super beings.

While the supreme beings are the chosen few, like Lord Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesha, Surya and Devi there are many  attendants and celestials whose purpose of existence revolves around the worship of these great beings. Every one has a name, a designation that is defined by the attributes they possess and the power to deliver something that we mortals perennially thirst for. And then we have the scriptures that are a great store house of information painting this brilliant picture giving the visual appearance of these great beings whom we may never meet; but the mantras are stitched such, that we tend to forget we ever wanted to meet them and instead get lured towards all the gifts of prosperity that they can supposedly grant us in return for our feeble prayers.

There is a pattern in all this, every known deity has a form, every deity has mantras and sacred verses describing them and also gives an idea of what they are capable of doing. This is a given, if we dig deep enough, the more we get to know and understand the exploits of these great beings. But there are a few, who seem to be lost in this oblivion of great souls and though we have the mantras that call on their presence, we may not have tangible iconography to support the visual appearance... or let me say, I have not found it yet :)

Here is one such celestial, whose description is given in a single verse with details of her location and her 
attributes and yet, there is no picture to paint of her to explain what she really looks like. 

Himavat uttare paarshre suratha namah yakshini
Tasya smarana maatraina vishlya garbhini bhavet
[Please excuse any textual errors in the above mantra]

This translates to the backdrop of the Northern Himalayas, where there lives a Yakshini by the name of Suratha. If an expectant mother intensely contemplates on the form of this Yakshini, she will protect her during labor blessing her with minimal pain and suffering.

Does this mean only women should think about Yakshini Suratha at the time when they are pregnant and not any other time during their lives? Suratha increases my curiosity more from the perspective that written records of her are very few and there is hardly any easy access to visual references of this Goddess. While reciting the mantra is the only art we have learned and the potential immediate need of the hour for only selected people is to recite her name, why doesn’t Yakshini hold a place in the mind of the average human being? Doesn’t this question our outlook towards our own faith making each of these deities a wish fulfilling tree who is conveniently forgotten once the "sadhana" has been achieved.

This brings me to the mechanical mind set we all are very comfortable with and the lack of persistence we show towards not questioning its real intent. When someone is given a mantra, the immediate act is to start reciting it whether we understand the meaning or not. In the stray occasion that we do understand the blatant meaning, we barely get to the subtle meaning of the verse, that which is governed by a bit of experience, lets say the art of the sublime experience of love. The mantra though capable, hardly leads us into that sublime haven of truth which we want to see but don’t have the patience to approach the right way. This hits our overall confidence on our belief and faith and we left with no answer to proceed. We want results without taking trouble, but these things need time for anything to surface.

A true lover of the scriptures, of this science, of this way of life called Hinduism, settles for nothing less than 
the real truth, and how is that truth defined? In this extensive learning curve, if one is blessed with patience, 
the first is to understand how this system of faith works, not just by the rules taught blindly at home but by 
individual understanding. Persistence to know more, to understand the ancients who created the scriptures as the sacred books that we need to follow for good living. And these sacred books are well beyond the realm of the Gita or the Ramayana. Next is to realize the various arts of expression, be it architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry, scriptures or even song, which gives an insight to what they might have possibly experienced in the search for the supreme for the great souls expressed their love for the sublime in these forms. And lastly, is one's own lonely path to salvation to experience this sublime love for themselves and break away from the attachments of maya that govern every aspect of our lifestyle, be it materialism or be it love for our dear ones, some day the truth to depart will dawn on us, and maybe that day we are too far off from recovering from this illusion.


Ecstacy in the experience of divine art

Have we ever wondered what the court of Indra might have looked like? This is a heavenly city among the clouds, floating in space, brimming with activity and carefully placed well beyond the radar of human consciousness. It’s a city so beautiful, where the magic of life and the miracle of consciousness can be sensed in every pulse of one's own awareness.

They say it is a land of purity, of super men, whom we call Devas, celestial beings with superior knowledge of life and an ever pulsating consciousness that can be an intoxicant to enjoying divine experience. This is the land of super powers, who not only spend their time creating a balance of goodness in the global aura that surrounds the universe, they are constant worshipers of the supreme beings, the core of all spiritual power, the trinity and with this realization they create a world that glitters in such beauty, its too breath taking for us to even sense.

And in this divine court that glows in such light that equals a million suns, where air is so fresh, water is so crystal clear there is music that reverberates from the instruments played by the celestial Gandharvas to whose beat dance one of the most ravishing Apsaras described in the Indian scriptures.

They are not just beautiful in their divine femininity, they are not oozing sensuality on the floor, no none of this... they are the very embodiment of beauty describing a very different consciousness. In their divine glow, and in their graceful movements they dance on the royal floor of Indra's court waking up the divine senses to the superior arts of divine love in the form of dance coupled with an intellect that supersedes any earthly knowledge we know today. These are women of superior power, with sharp intellect that can challenge any being, with beauty that can overwhelm the onlooker and with grace that can weaken any mortal mind. And they had their place in the heavens, of respect, of power, and of divine love for the supreme, untouched, protected, and honored.

Back here on mortal earth, men tried to create one such ambiance within the temple walls and as close to divinity as possible. Women were associated into the temple arts of love, of divine music, of dance that relived the presence of the supreme beings and accentuated their mythological exploits.

They came to be known as Devadasis, the divine women, the Lord's attendants, who were married to the very Lord himself and had dedicated their lives to the divine entertainment of the Lord, creating a similar mortal court of Indra back here on earth. Their qualifications were difficult to achieve, and unless they dedicated their lives from childhood to this divine art of love, they probably never reached such levels of high honor.

But there was a flaw in this system, and we forget mortals are mortals, no matter how superior their education into the truths of the sacred texts is. When it came to describing beauty, the focus apparently shifted, from the love of divine art in grace, and dance and music to the very sensuality of the woman who displayed it. The more the woman displayed her grace, and her beauty in the arts, the more she probably attracted the spiritual men who worshipped the Lord within these walls into the mortal sensual world of beauty.

The difference between superior beings and mere mortals is very apparent in the truth of this tradition. Supreme beings focus on self consciousness, on accentuating their enlightenment on divinity where the body if any doesn’t really count. It is about the superior rise in consciousness. Mortals don’t take too long to fall prey to their pleasures related to the mere flesh and bone. The more beautiful the flesh, the more they want the power to control it, losing every sense of control on their self consciousness.

And this practice over time, has led the way to "divine prostitution" maybe well within the very walls that were meant to attribute these arts to the Lord himself. The cult degenerated, the women reduced to mere toys of sensual pleasure with male supremacy overpowering their existence. Maybe some enjoyed it, some didn’t, but none the less the very death of honor and protection to the women in this practice displays their hypocrisy of the human mind and its complete weakness.  

The men in this world were the best intellects the mortal world apparently produced, they were the closest to the Divine Lord, they had dedicated their lives to the study of superior knowledge to lead the way to lesser mortals and yet, when all knowledge failed and the animal power of the body took over the divine consciousness of the mind, is there any honor left in these men?

Whether the women were a party to this crime or whether they were forced to submit to the celebration of this derogatory art, or whether they lived in a free society where the art of divine expression of sensual love was not a taboo is a debatable topic. None the less, we lost the heavenly beauty of the realization of self consciousness in the experience of these arts that have been so carefully brought down the ages and knitted into our society.

What we need to realize is where honor really lies, in animal instinct that governs and overwhelms of sensual existence or in divine thirst for supreme awareness that makes this very sensuality appear like a decease. To all the confused souls who search for the divine truth on this planet, whose minds are unstable and flutter from one sensual pleasure to the next, isnt the truth within the quality of thought we harbor?

How then can the mind experience the divine embedded in sacred art if the mind searches for the grace in the mortal body of a woman instead of searching for divine love in her eyes for the Lord?


Vaital Deul - The art of conquering fear

Vaital Deul temple stands silent along the bustling streets of Bhubaneshwar, it is a contrast from the world we are in today and the world that once was. The landscape of the day has completely changed with buildings rising around this quaint ambiance but the image of this quiet locality must have been quite different during the old days. Vaital Deul, sharing its compound with Sisireshwar temple, would have been shrouded among dense forests with a possible pathway leading up to this shrine.

Tantrik cults have ruled this temple for long and their main deity of worship has been Chamunda devi. While the exteriors of this temple are covered with innocent looking kanyas luring the passerby to these temples, what lies inside looks far more fearsome.

In Indian spiritualism, there is no room for feelings of fear or attachment. In fact our scriptures repeatedly advice us to get over these emotions over a period of time. These forms of Devi and Shiva, of Kali, Bhairava and Chamunda bring in feelings of fear when viewed by the ignorant eye, but to the aspirant who loves and views them in bhakti, the emotions reach a state of sublime that supersedes the average emotions that rule us. Its similar to the emotion of indescribable love a mother feels towards her potentially ugly baby as compare to the judgemental view an onlooker takes towards the same child. We have innumerable examples of Shiva and Shakti in Ghora rupa, displaying actions of gore like consumption of blood and mutilating the body of the sacrificed, living in formidable locations like the shamshan ghat and waking up in the night to be worshiped by their devotees. There must have been a meaning to all this.

Vaital Deul is one such potent example of a Shakti sthal converted to a hard core location for strict, deep rooted tantrik practices for the worship of the Mother, in one of her many forms. The temple itself has a silent aura of mysticism with a luring exterior of the most ravishing Kanyas. But when we step inside, the view changes everything. Shiva, the Durgas, Sapta Matrikas, Varaha, Ganesha form the pantheon that welcomes us, but with a difference. They appear far more scary than what we in "civilized society" are used to. It is almost a reflection of the Jewish Sabbat - the dance with Satan. While the imagery is dangerously close involving sexuality and potential blood rituals, the rules and beliefs are completely different.  

Hinduism depicts the vanquishing of evil in this imagery, where killing is incidental, but the method is explicit. These emaciated sculptures of Chamunda and Bhairava dance around with fire bowls, holding decapitated heads and a sickle for more blood coupled with scenes of copulation all in the name of victory. They scream out not just the destruction of evil but the path to higher super bliss through what appears to be bizarre rituals. But why are they bizarre? Its a method, like any other strong school of thought with its own set of beliefs, just more daring in areas sparingly visited.

Pure spiritualism has no room for bias, lack of bhakti, easy nirvana or just the mechanical art of worshiping a wish fulfilling tree to bear fruit. We have strong contradictions, seriously controversial rules that fight the battle of what pure faith really is. Conquest of fear, of attachment, of temptations and of discipline is the bottom line of all the rituals that build up Hindu spiritual art of worship. Be it the worship of Chamunda and Kala Bhairava or be it the worship of Shiva and Parvati, the mind has to be tamed and the methods could be varied to cross this ocean. To some the path is acceptable within the realm of society and to others the path blatantly addresses human nature in its many aspects.

Vaital Deul temple depicts Chamunda in her gory best, with dancing ghosts and goblins hitting the drums of victory around her. In the darkness of this small temple, with hardly any windows to bring in daylight, the appearance of the Goddess in the lamp light can trigger the emotion of fear and echo the thought of death in our heads for longer than we ever felt it. The thought here is not about death as much as it is about the eeriness of the ambiance that calls death upon us. Vaital Deul has been active in history with blood sacrifices more in the order of humans than lambs and other creatures. The aura of this temple can brings shivers to the mind and the only way a person can beat this creeping eeriness is vanquish the very emotion that encourages weakness out of its presence. Vaital Deul is a good example of a temple that creates the aura of gore and fear to make the onlooker realize their emotions and not fall prey to them. Its a classical test towards attaining higher bliss by inducing contemplation to conquer our mortal emotions.

The thought of contemplation now should ideally change from the fear and shock of the unknown to peace and bliss over the surprises the Supreme forces throw on us to make us realize how inadequate we are to proceed on our spiritual journey.


Mysteries of a begging bowl

The ancient Tantriks are great followers of the cult of Bhairava, the form of Bhikshatana Shiva, the naked mendicant who walked from one forest to the other, ash clad and pure. Shiva carries a damaru in one hand and a skull cap shaped begging bowl in the other. The Tantriks are the only people today, who are found using a skull cap for a begging bowl, literally mimicking this picture of the Lord, but delivering it in not as much beauty.

Mythology holds that Lord Shiva once cut off the 5th head of Brahma. Thirumular's Thirumanthiram states that Lord Shiva holds the skull cap of Brahma as a begging bowl in order to save it from hitting the earth and perishing, for Brahma is the creator of the Universe and his head signifies all that lives and transitions to the next life after death. Lord Shiva is also known to wear a garland of skulls that belong to great celestials, as he protects them from falling to dust. Hence the idea of holding the skull cap and wearing a garland of skulls has a very profound meaning and is not as gory as perceived by many.

These are not just stories as they hold a great deal of truth and deeper significance and this brings us to the larger question of why is a skull cap a significant depiction of a begging bowl?

Lets take a few steps back and observe another ancient tradition, that of Buddhism. The idea of ahimsa as well as the idea of bhiksha started during the time of Buddha. There is great significance to the begging bowl in Buddhist tradition. When Sidhartha Gautama Buddha reached the end of his journey to enlightenment, he realized his emaciated state was of no help and that he would need food to gather the energy to go through to the other side. It was at this time that a young girl gave him grain in a golden bowl which he divided into 19 parts, one for each day till the day he reached his moment of enlightenment. One he crossed the threshold to the other side; he discarded the golden bowl into the river - a marked significance of detachment from any kind of materialism. The golden bowl marked the catalyst to Sidhartha's transition from one state to the next.

Ancient faith believes that the last segment to divine Nirvana is when the Kundalini energy reached the highest zone, that which is near the Kabala of the human skull. It is also believed that Jeeva enters the body through the Kabalam and if it exits the same way, one is blessed with superior transition at the time of death, it is the perfect death achieved.

Brahma, the creator symbolized the transition of life and death in the hands of the Lord of destruction. Hence the passage of the afterlife and the highest form of realization is depicted through his kabala which is held as a skull cap, a bowl that depicts the last state before one attains the highest form of spiritual bliss.

Both Buddhism and Hinduism tried to depict this great truth in their own ways. While Buddhist belief took a different turn and depicted this truth in a far less violent way, ancient Tantrik cults and Vajrayana Buddhism depicted the ferocity of Kala Bhairava, the Lord of time in their depictions by emphasizing on the skull cap which symbolizes the Bhramaranda zone of the skull, where the essence of Atman remains shrouded in this area and releases the soul upon death.

Such deep significance of life and transition to super death, such profound truth lies embedded in what we perceive as just a skull cap in the form of a begging bowl.

P.S. It would be interesting to note that the Tibetan Buddhist tradition has also devised a singing bowl which reverberates the sound of OM when one plays it while meditating. Could it possibly signify the highest state of bliss when the mind resonates the primordial sound of OM.


Secrecy within the Sun temple, Konark

Konark, well known as the black Pagoda strangely captures the mind for only its association with being the chariot temple to Lord Surya. With every stone falling apart, with every piece of evidence hitting the dust, the secret mystical world of Konark is fast disappearing. 

Taking a closer look at this gorgeous structure echoes a lot more than the iconography of Surya. Its sheer size makes the experience all the more overwhelming. Konark presents a grand entrance, against the cloudy sky and wet floor, history slowly unfolds. As we rise towards each step of this mysterious world the power of the ancients welcomes us with much song and dance as each kanya dances her way into our world. With drums and musical instruments, they gracefully dance into existence.

The sheer structure of Konark is mammoth, but what’s even more intriguing is the depth of philosophy into its architecture buried in every stone. It not just covers the ancient Surya cult but also has traces of the roots of deep Tantricism as well as Naga cult in its form. Buried in the rocks that build up the platform of the temple are scenes from life in Orissa as it was among the nobles, and the people with royal screens scattered across the walls. Inter-spaced with this world is the stark presence of the netherworld where the Nagas ruled. Naga lords endowed with the 7 hooded serpent are inter-spaced with nobles and maithuna couples all across the platform. These worlds of manushas and the Nagas are occasionally broken by the great Konark wheels that draw the great chariot of Lord Surya.

The presence of the Naga cult draws our attention to this strange world which is otherwise not as obvious on the sculptural panels of other temples around India. Could these snake hooded mystical beings belong to the netherworld of the Nagas or is it representations of Rahu and Ketu of the Navagraha pantheon of stars associated with Surya?

The mystery gets even deeper as we walk onto the main platform of the temple and are faced with explicit poses of maithuna visually describing the Kamasutra. It amazes me that while the maithuna depictions of Konark are yelling, yet the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho seem to grab the delight of the average tourist when they can hardly be found on the walls.

These sculptural panels depict the deep philosophy of Vama Marga embedded in them of the Tantrik origin. They bear their roots in the Panchamakara ritual of the ancient left path. referred to as the 5Ms of this esoteric ritual, maithuna is one of 5 parts to the ritual where all the gross elements of existence and channelized to a higher spiritual existence. These loud echoes of the esoteric cult practices of Orissa, which belonged to the silent mystical worlds of the Tantriks and Nagas have been profusely depicted on the walls of the temple associated with the Sun God, the epitome of brilliance and divine light. In a strange way, this contradiction to approach life, this dualism in the belief systems with every school following its own path lends itself to our minds to realize just how vast this spiritual ocean is and how difficult it would be to cross it.

Truly this is a contradiction in the mind as much as it’s depicted in mammoth canvases of stone.


Supreme presence in the material world

"The Lord is within you" is an old saying that makes us want to believe that the supernatural force governing all life, exists within us as well. There is no disputing this fact, but how and in what form does IT exist in, is worth a discussion. Shaivism has possibly attempted to depict this "not so easily achievable" phenomenon in a more grounded reality with plenty of mysticism thrown in. These are concepts beyond the realm of science and that's probably why they are that much more difficult to explain or understand and are left to our experience to realize them. Simply said, Hinduism in some form attempts to realistically paint the super truth by picking very select material items that would not just represent but would also aid the Sadhaka in achieving their goal.

Kundalini Tantra takes the help of traditional symbology to make various references of the potential experience of the divine Shiva Linga, when a Sadhaka crosses one chakra after the other in their attempt to experience super consciousness. In the Mooladhara the Shiva Linga is represented as a Swayambhu Linga or Dhumra Linga, which is smoky grey in color. The Kundalini Shakti in three and a half coils around this Linga, her luster being as bright and piercing as that of lightening. Could this in reality be a representation of the Parada Linga which is grey in color and made of mercury? Does the worship of the Parada Linga in specific help cross the hurdle of the Mooladhara and cleanse the mind of its instinctive ignorance?

The existence of the Kundalini echoes in almost all temples across India. The three and half serpent coil is what is most often seen within the Garbha Griha of the main shrine, bringing the whole vision of the supreme into these houses of stone that represent our womb, the location where this chakra originates. Does it take divine light and consciousness represented by the brightness of fire to have a glimpse of this reality through the art of arti performed at the shrine?

At the Ajna Chakra the supreme consciousness is represented as a black Linga. This is called the Itarakhya Linga. In this state of consciousness the representation of awareness is a more pronounced version of "What I am". Most Shiva temples represent the form of the Linga in black granite. Were the ancients trying to remind us of our original goal having taken birth in this universe by echoing it across monuments of stone systematically across the land, the root purpose of our life being the realization of Who I Am?

The experience at the Anahata Chakra is that of the inverted triangle of Shakti in burning Akhanda Jyoti, the unflickering eternal flame which is essentially the awareness of the jivatma. In the Tantrik texts this Linga is represented as the Bana Linga. It is believed that the Banalingas in reality are the essence of Shiva and do not require any pranapratishta for their worship. These are superior Linga stones are not are easy to procure.

The Bindu Visarga brings with it the cool experience of the moonlit night with the crescent moon shining in the night sky. The crescent moon represents the drop of ambrosia acquired which elevates the Sadhaka's state to that where material sustenance ceases to exist, they completely disconnect from our world. At this point the cosmic sound of OM is heard within the being of the Sadhaka.

Last and by far the most supreme, is that of the luminous Linga experienced at the Sahasrara Chakra. This is represented by the Jyothir Linga which is formless. This is the state of the void, the nothingness where the Sadhaka ceases to exist in relation to "I". Could this in reality be represented by the Spatika Linga which is transparent, and yet almost invisible?

It amazes me that each Linga experienced in the spiritual journey has possibly been represented in material form through natural stones/metals available in nature. How far deep does this search go, how far beyond is the truth and how much closer can it be if its within me to realize?


Nalhati - Shakti Peetha up close

Far away in remote northern Bengal, lost in the rural landscape is a small shrine to the Mother. While the representation is that of Kali Ma, the potency of the shrine hints at the ancient Shakti Peetha of Ma Sati. Indeed, not too far away from the sacred Siddha Peeth of Tarapith is the sacred shrine of Ma Nalhateshwari, at Nalhati. 

Nalhati, buried in her potency, is a small temple surrounded by a village. The main temple of Nalhati rests atop a small hill and within it, draped in hibiscus flowers and red sindur is the sacred rock of power. The name of Nalhati comes from the word "Nal" which refers to the great Mother's throat that fell here when Sati's body was destroyed by Vishnu's discus. Hence this temple houses the form of Ma Nalhateshwari.

The charm of Nalhati is the peace and the sheer lack of corruption. The priests are simple and do not mind devotees taking photographs of the Great Mother's shrine. There is Tantrik presence at this shrine for everything hints towards Kali Ma and Shiva Bhairava. The Bali peeth at the foot of this temple stands in powerful silence and in brilliant red demanding more blood for the Mother.

But what would the landscape of Nalhati have looked like in the ancient days. How could anyone have identified the potency of this sacred earth? Nalhati appears to  have been shrouded in dense jungle along the river side and at the peak of this low hill stands this rock, possibly the fossil of the Great Ma's throat. Reflecting back on the appearance of this shrine, it is a wondrous thought that apparently a stone could command such power.

When we stand at the entrance of the main shrine, its the discovery of this form that moves the heart first. Closer observation brings in the familiarity of the rules and the iconography. The red color, the long hair, the red dress that always makes the mother look like a new bride, the Trishul and the hibiscus flowers at her divine silver feet, all these  proclaim the written laws for the Goddess in the sacred text. And hence the worship is defined, that this rock should be decorated as the head of the Goddess is the rule applied, that she was most probably in ughra form brings on the features of Kali Ma. The fire rises into the air and arti is performed, the divine vision to see the Mother is granted in the light of the flames. 

While these are the familiar rules that are asserted on this stone, while the acts of divine worship are performed to seek her blessings in the method known to us, while fire and water create the sacred path to the feeble offerings we make in half hearts, how does a simple devotee touch the potency of this great shrine when we stand up so close to it in its presence?

Why do we take it for granted that the only method to get access to the divine are "acts" of worship and our mind and heart hardly have a role to play in it because the larger looming presence of time [Kala] defines the limit of our stay in her presence? While I turn my head again to the door, descending the steps of this hill, I just wondered what I really achieved after coming this far. Is this enough or if life, rules, time and family would allow, could I have stayed here longer? And if I did, how would it have made a difference to me if I had to take a dive into my spiritual self?

What am I missing that makes this trip fulfilling in the perspective of having met the divine Mother, but leaves a lacunae in my heart for hardly having spent any time with her? The divine Mother at Nalhati, Tarapith and Kalighat are as close as we can get to the sacred rock that governs the spiritual world we live in. And yet, as we rubbish away all the noise and corruption, and watch her in silence... am quite speechless thinking what next?

As the divine flames rise and the bells ring in my heart, reverberating within the hollow of my inner self, Oh Ma, I ask for forgiveness towards my shattering ignorance of not being able to recognize your potent presence.


Mysteries of a Siddhapith - Twin worlds at Tarapith

Our lifestyles are often defined by the caste we come from and the sub caste further describes the nuances of how we differ from each other in the minor aspects of living and mindset. We have lived by certain rules that differ from one household to the next, and the way of worship also changes accordingly though the basic principle remains the same. Unfortunately, we are not broad minded enough to accept the differences. And life moves on, as long as we don't step on each other's toes.

These differences are never apparent, sometimes never spoken about and most often buried with time. These rules are understood to be described as the lifestyle of the given caste but its never described as the lifestyle defined by a school of thought.

One thing that is heavily apparent at the Siddhapith of Tarapith is the twin worlds comprising of the Brahmins who have captured the main temple and the silent world of the tantra Sadhaks who have made the Shamshan ghat their home. These two worlds though in reality are separated by a street of tiny little shops, in concept are separated by the biggest differences in belief and lifestyle, all strangely attributed to the same mother - Ma Tara!

The charm of Tarapith is this strange reality, though not apparent to any person who steps in there for the first time, the differences between these two worlds echoes in the head when we open our minds with awareness towards the life here. Tarapith, is probably one of the few locations that envelopes the Shamshan ghat as an equal part of itself apart from the main temple into its fold. Few other places like Manikarnika ghat and Kalighat have made the Shamshan an equal tourist attraction. Here at Tarapith the belief is that Ma Tara, not only inhabits the main temple but also lives at the Shamshan ghat making it her home. Hence, the Shamshan ghat here at the riverside is considered equally sacred as the temple that lies above it.

Tarapith's sacred land is defined by a low hill that has this temple at its peak. The hill is not so apparent as our approach to it is almost at the same level. The street with shops runs perpendicular to the temple is lower in level. At this cross road which leads to the main temple gateway upwards on the left, on the right we can walk down to the river that flows by this little town. The road slopes down towards the river which is a beaten track that appears very well inhabited by people and shops.

It all looked very simple and obvious as we found the way to the temple because all the Brahmin priests led us there, but where was the promised Shamshan ghat to which this road led? There was no sign of it at all.

It was the strangest moment in my life, we had decided to go back home right after the darshan of Ma Tara, but for some twist in circumstances we decided to hang around for another 2 hours at Tarapith. That decision was the first in the direction of discovering the real world of Tarapith. It felt like Ma Tara was granting me my wish of touching the escentric world of tantriks. Was it safe? Apparently yes. The 2nd twist in events was when my adventurous self discovered the unassuming path that took a strange turn to the right from the beaten track to the river. This path was hidden among a cloister of trees and shops and was hardly evident to the eye.

We had just walked out of the corrupt world of red clad brahmin priests, who were yelling and shouting, demanding money, realing out mantras to make a quick buck and not letting us have a moment's peace at the feet of the mother. This was the so called familiar world that we were so aware of and so much a part of disliking every moment we spent in its presence as we clung on to dear faith. This was the world that we call ours, that in the name of Ma Tara actually left every Bhakt in disillusionment over their own faith if they were not strong enough. This was our known reality in the name of civilized faith - a world of obscene levels of corruption and disregard to the sacredness of the very shrine in front of which these acts of blastphemy are performed.

And then I discovered this other world near the river side on the opposite side of the temple, far away from the noise up on the hill. This world was peaceful and scerene and at the same time eerie and mysterious. Every step into the shamshan ghat made me feel that I was breaking every forbidden brahminical rule placed by my ancestors, and I loved every moment of it, I was free!

We left our footware at the side and walked into this world, it looked weird and yet thrilling. In the shade of many trees that gave this little locality its charm, there was a lot for my eyes to feast on as I made my daring entrance. This was the other world, were we strangely felt a lot more peace and the power of the mother was way way higher. People here were probably poorer, and yet there was hardly any begging, not to the obscene levels at the temple. People here left us alone, as we dared to walk into this strange little land. A lot of eyes were on us and yet they didnt bother us which probably made us feel a little queezy. We were so used to the racket, being left alone was hardly a sign of comfort!

These people were dignified, and far more serious in their approach towards faith. They didnt come close to us, though I felt their powerful glance scanning my presence in question wondering what I was possible intending to do here. I was clearly a trespasser and I walked into this world feeling like one. Tiny huts dotted this peaceful haven and red clad men and women walked about with ingridients of worship. There was no sound here but for the havan taking place near the small temple, where people from our society mingled with men of this world in union to worship the great Goddess.

Honestly, the presence of the Mother here was far more superior. while the air smelt of her presence, the red hit us too close and we tried very hard not to touch anything for everything here seemed so powerful and intimidating that we felt uneducated in this land of secret faith. Women tantriks were easy to find and burning bodies were a common sight. A little girl showed us around this locality, taking us into the deeper ends of this world, making us ever more uncomfortable. She was educated and there was not a streak of fear in her mind. She roamed around freely telling us about the place and leading us from one shrine to the other as old tantrik men peeped out of their dark huts inquisitively looking at us.

This land was real power, where men and women practiced freely, where there was no discrimination, where a young girl of 10 years of age was allowed to walk around freely among prayers and burning bodies at the cremation ground, where women were not forbidden, where no one asked for money and no one really cared about us for apparently we were the most illiterate among those who visited there.

This was the place of true unadulterated faith, where mystical chants were carefully guarded from inquisitive half baked keepers of faith like us, where entry was by initiation only and where our fear factor of tantriks was actually our inadequacy to face the potency of this faith as compare to the familiar world of brahmin priests ridiculing the same chants for a couple of bucks in the civilized world up at the temple. We fear tantriks because we touch real potency in their world, because we are not ready for it and we scorn their practices because we dont have the courage to face the powers of divinity.

Ma Tara! I bow to thee for enlightening me with this truth.