I haven't quite seen anything like this, anything as intriguing, or secretive and yet so open. When we get down to discipline and discover the deeper roots of our faith, I speak only for Hinduism, and in this case more pointedly towards the cult of Shiva and Shakti, it appears to be a treasure hunt, difficult to find and exhilarating when discovered and yet it leaves a hint of something more that lies beyond.
Its very easy to get surpassed by presumption to perform ritual and follow religion like a herd of sheep with little knowledge of why we are doing it. In India there are plenty of rules to follow ritually and no one really know why, but no one seems to care enough to find out beyond the reasons they have been given. We feel we have done our bit but have we really? There are many ways to discover Hinduism; I, for now, have chosen the path of ritual more for its structure, its intrigue and its apparent magic that is stitched in with the deities.
And this hunt has taken me all over the place, to the most sacred sthalas and to the weirdest rituals that are still being performed even today ["am being judgmental with the general non acceptance that anything beyond the rules of our society are basically absurd"]. And the best place to visit for such intriguing rituals is Bengal. I love Bengal for its openness, for its broad minded society, for their belief system and social acceptance of it and the hint of mystery that dots the land. After much reading and stomach churning discoveries, I came upon a few common areas of interest in the lives of few Bengali saints, of whom I would like to concentrate on Ramakrishna and Ramprasad Sen, both of whom were Brahmin priests of the Tantrik order.
My focus is not to generalize a few facts common to their lives but to zero in on one strange and yet mysterious element that brought them both to the state of divine consciousness that they both experienced. All roads lead to Rome, yes, but this particular road has a twist. Circumstances presented them with the right teachers, perfect rituals and right attitude to go through with it. One thing that I found of great interest was their seat of meditation. While there are no written texts available to elaborate the significance and the reasons why [at least on the internet] what really strikes me is the combination of elements that make up the perfect ground for meditation.
The great seat of dualism, the meeting of the highest of the pure with the lowest of the impure, the confluence of truth where the human mind dwells to reach higher zones of existence, of bliss, of spiritual intoxication. This is at the seat of meditation, a seat that both Ramakrishna and Ramprasad Sen spent a lot of their time in meditation. At the head of this seat was the Panchavati, the 5 sacred trees of purity namely the Banyan, Vilva, Aamla, Ashoka, and the Peepal which make the air sacred and pure and bring in life into the environment. At the foot of the seat is the altar of the impure, the panchamundi asan, the burial place of 5 skulls belonging to a snake, frog, rabbit, fox and human, the seat of death that houses the very power of the Goddess. And between these two worlds of dualism, sits the seeker in mindful contemplation in love with the Gods and in a state of pure consciousness. Both elements of life and death are arranged in the sacred order of the number 5, seeking the highest realm of divinity. Yet the mystery of the highest form of dualism leading to the gates of super consciousness remains a mystery to lesser mortals like us.
Now to the common man's mind, the presence of skulls, the association of death and impurity itself is a question from the ritualistic perspective of why this peculiar combination is required at all. While we accept Panchavati without batting an eyelid, we find it hard to accept the panchamunda asan [though its very acceptable in Bengal]. And hence the combination brings in the an eerie feeling of what else we might have to go through and whether we are really cut out for this path of spiritualism. That is really the whole point. Its the bias we have to kill, the mind set that we are stuck with, the upbringing that is so one sided. And to kill this bias we have great saints who have performed it, Ramakrishna and Ramprasad Sen were lucky enough to own these seats and no one came in their way. They were aided by gurus who presented them with the required material to get them going. They have proven that with rigorous sadhana, no matter what the seat on which they sit is, no matter what kind of food they are asked to eat, no matter what they are told to perform in terms of core ritual, no matter what kind of trees cover their roof, all that matters is serious consciousness towards the supreme.
So this just leaves me with one question, is the great seat of dualism a catalyst to higher consciousness, or is the seat meant to just kill the aversion the seeker may have in their path of performing sadhana. Its possible that the aversion is killed once the seeker sits on the aasan and figures there is nothing wrong with it :). The other reason for the skulls could also be associated with the presence of Shakti residing within them in the form of Ma Kali. And when the seeker sits on this holy throne, the closest body part associated with this seat is the muladhara chakra forming a direct path through the seeker to reach Sahasrara which is the seat of purity and life alias the trees. Maybe there is more to this which can only be discovered through experience. For now, we know that this seat promises results and is hard to come by.