The Painful Three Days in the Month

Those three days in the month are all it takes to mark the difference of a woman's life from a man's. Its not an innocent 3 days that are done with and over, it comes with a host of issues that are morally disheartening to women, discriminating them through the ages and the sole reason for men to feel apparently superior. They have defined the restrictions of a woman's life and no matter how open we are in what ever era, when it comes to spiritualism we always seem to lose the battle...somethings just never change. Very few managed to stand up but we don't get to see a Mahadevi Akka or a Karaikkal Ammaiyar or a Mira Bai that easily anymore these days. What's really happening with woman power? And I of course went on my hunt trying to understand why there is such a level of discrimination and I stumbled upon the sacred scriptures and decided to roll my mind over them.

This was like opening a can of worms. Initial shock soon converted to anger which precipitated into a deep sense of need to understand what is in it for women. Hindu scriptures are predominantly addressed to men and they reduce women to either commodity or a different lesser species on this planet or that evil seductress who is going to ruin aspiring spiritual men. That was really the limit. Now I understand where male chauvinism stems from. Something is desperately wrong in the interpretation.

And so it became my journey to seek that truth, for I was certainly not in agreement with the resulting interpretation of the scriptures. Every scripture I picked (which isn't too many), but predominantly Vaishnavaite and the Vedas and Upanishads, for some reasons appear to be a rule book to men and very sparingly address women. Seriously, why wouldn't the male ego grow... though they don't do anything earth shattering when it comes to self-enlightenment!

It has bothered me forever now why women cannot go anywhere near the earthly form of the Supreme during those three days of the month. This further extends to the rules that having being born as women we are denied a lot of other spiritual perks that men are granted. Women never went to the Veda Patashala, they don't perform homams, they are not allowed into the sanctum even after they have crossed menopause for example... we are so restricted to home administration, procreation and being the symbol of pleasure to a man's desire. How fair is that?

It’s strange that I can hand pick less than 10 women who made it to Sainthood through known history. Were we suppressed so much that we couldn't ever rise, or were we brainwashed that such fate doesn't exist or did we never have the will to try hard enough?

My entire love for the Shiva cult and that of Devi rose from the basic realization that there is no such barrier for women in this realm. I have hardly come across a restriction, and much to my surprise I came to learn that women are considered superior and are worshiped, not suppressed. So who is misguiding us?

At some point, I decided no earthly Guru was pure enough, humble enough and wise enough to help me grow in my spiritual path without considering my gender. (I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I have an aversion towards self-made mortal Gurus – just doesn’t work for me). Hence this became a lonely journey of experiment, and I soon came to realize with the grace of the Divine Goddess what those three days really mean.

The reason why women have been suppressed and restricted over these past centuries is because in our world, spiritualism and child birth are opposite ends of the spectrum. If we move towards child birth, we have to give up spiritualism for that period of time. If we move towards spiritualism, we are likely to menopause sooner reducing our chances of child birth. Now imagine if we went down that lane, it would lead to the doom of humanity! And so the great wise men kept us a little away from it, though they granted us the miracle to deliver new life. And the mortal world made us believe that we are not "complete" without child birth. And we got locked down with a very well defined role - our sole purpose of existence turns out to be home administration and of course being the vehicle of reproduction. Is there really no more to this, is it really so blinding?

There is a far more potent reason as well as to why we are discouraged from venturing too far into spiritual activities. Have you ever wondered why some of our bodies break down when we go to powerful Shaiva or Devi shrines? Why do older women post menopause on a Kailash Yatra come back with a period? Why do women who go near Bhairava Shrines break down into period? Why are women not allowed to recite the Gayatri Mantra? Given our lack of training into deep spiritualism, our bodies are not accustomed to the powerful energies at these shrines. Had we been able to do regular intensive puja for a long duration, we would be able to handle the potent powers at these locations. But since we don’t, we are not able to handle it and the result is out of turn periods.

But here is the bright side. If we are regular with puja, if we recite sacred mantras and tune our minds and bodies, we are capable of enduring these powers because we have built up our physical reserves to withstand it, we are energized. And then if we come in contact with powerful shrines, there is a greater likelihood that the body doesn't break down into a period. While we succeed spiritually, and our body is evolving and energized we are likely to menopause sooner than expected.

But there is a silver lining to every cloud. Enjoy child birth, enjoy samsara, but along the way (sooner than 40 years) start the move into spiritualism once you have decided that you are not into child birth anymore. You can move into deep spiritualism. This is not about getting permission from the men, this is about seeking the divine for yourself. Once we have completed our earthly duties of procreation we are free to travel into the world of spiritualism and NO MAN can stop us then. From there divine grace will take us forward.

Our tryst with faith is in our hands. It’s in our hand to choose whether we want to hang in there and dedicate our whole lives to mortality or whether we want to consider the existence of the atman within us that wants to go home to the Supreme Mother. The choice is ours, the effort required is a lot more (since we lost time in child birth) and the results are amazingly fruitful. We need to realize that we can do it, we need to realize that our purpose is way more than what is taught to us, and we are more capable of handling our spiritual journeys because we DONT get seduced half as easily.

Bottom line: The scriptures are addressed to men because they just are the weaker ones in the head, be it in the unwavering persistence of principles which should not be twisted to convenience or be it the clear focus of purpose that they need to have. They need more attention and the scriptures are meant for those with less focus. I believe we crossed that bridge already.


At Home With Kamakshi Amman - Atithi Devo Bhava

I walked up to her home deep within the temple walls through the crowds of people gathering there. I was oblivious to the noise, of the chattering people, of the fuming priests who believed they owned her home more than she did. I was oblivious to the swelling savagery of uncouth human behavior as people were herded in and out of the temple. And ironically I was looking for my peace here, within this din somewhere. 

I wondered as I saw the mass of people sticking close like ants in a line, falling over each other trying to get a glimpse of her divine form. They converged at the door of the shrine like ants attack a half dead prey, trying to get their share of the divine rays of grace that emitted from the chamber within. And the Brahmin priest cracked his caustic verbal whip as he shooed the crowds away. 

I felt sad for these people, they were desperate for love, they were frustrated with their lives and that’s probably what brought them to her doorstep. But how would they seek her grace when they didn’t realize that all she asked in return was undivided love and faith from them through the passage of silence which was too much to give. Was just a glimpse of the divine mother enough before they went back to their hell holes?

I was certain I didn’t want to be part of this. I was certain I wanted to keep my mind on her form; I was excited deep down waiting for my glimpse as I had wade past the priests to get my turn. This ambiance was a cauldron of swelling emotions, of herded people asking for more, of priests who treated them with utmost disrespect. But I wondered...didn’t they really ask for it? How else were they supposed to control a seething crowd that just wouldn’t listen, just wouldn't move and wanted that extra moment with the Goddess? 

I waited my time till I was called, silent and calm for the one thing I didn’t want was a priest or a security guard yelling at me. I was here to meet her, not them, and I had to seek their permission to enter her home but when I approached the Mother with love, the whole ambiance transformed. 

She called me in, picked me from the noisy crowd and gave me a seat in front of her as the priest gestured me about. We sat face to face, our eyes met, she smiled at me and I melted in my love unable to hold my emotions for long. My heart yelled out, “Take me mother, when will you come to take me...how much longer do I wait?” The priest broke the conversation asking me to give my offerings, and I held out all that I had. I was jostling between two worlds, that of the din around me and this beautiful conversation we were having in silence.

The flames flickered wild as they lit up her dim room, wet in water as she prepared for her bath. She was bare, her pure self-unveiled for me to get a glimpse as she smiled back at me. I was treated like a guest; she was gentle and kind oozing love and beauty as I felt the energies envelop me. I let my emotions flow as my hands shook, closing my eyes for a few seconds as I felt my body energized with her presence. I said nothing, I thought nothing, I felt everything I could and I let my pent up emotions flow. It was a river of love, between her and me. I gave whatever I could, I gave my being, I gave my heart, I gave my thoughts, I gave my love... I gave everything that was humanly possible to give. And she took it all with grace. No priest came between us then, no Maya knocked back at me. I was in her silent world for a short while. 

It was time to leave, I had a desire to see them bathe her and she granted me that wish and more. What was supposed to have otherwise ended as a darshan, continued as she gave me a pomegranate tossed into my hand by the priest. She gave me a seat far away from the maddening crowd to sit and worship her. High on a platform, far from the herd, in isolation and silence... I watched her being bathed. I witnessed her many forms as the priest took the divine light around her.

Four forms remained etched in my mind, the first was her in her pure bare state being readied for her bath, the second was when she was ash clad and the whiteness pronounced her features, the third was when milk and curd rolled down her being pronouncing her curved body and the fourth was when she was dressed like a bride. Each form depicted a different facet of herself - stark consciousness, freedom from attachment, vibrant purity, divine love.

She filled my eyes with her form, she filled my heart with her love, she filled my mind with silence, she filled my consciousness with her beeja mantra and I filled her with my pent up emotions. We merged in silence, in divine embrace...maybe that is what I call grace. 

I was called back into the chamber, she asked for me again and I was only too glad to see her up close. She is life size, real and enigmatic. I presented her my gift for her to touch with her grace and I quietly wore it round my neck, her grace enveloping my heart like an armour of love. She blessed me with abundant kumkum that reddened my hands, and I realized one truth then. 

Tara Ma and Kamakshi Amman were one and the same form. They both treated me to abhishekam, she allowed me to bathe her ughra form, while I witnessed her soumya roopam getting bathed. She colored my hands in alta red when I touched her ughra form and in kumkum when I felt her soumya presence. She hugged me close in her ughra form and spoke to me in silence in her soumya form. She energized me as I shook emotionally almost breaking into tears in both forms. She gave me two hours in Tarapith, she gave me two hours in Kanchipuram. She made the priests call me in; she made them treat me with respect. She made both the priests at Tarapith and at Kanchipuram give me their visiting cards and an open invitation to come back any time, she opened the gates to unlimited access into her divine home. 

She sent me back into samsara fulfilled with love, she sent me back to the world, blessed. It was a fantastic year with the Goddess. 

I truly felt Atithi Devo Bhava. 


Through The Grace of Kamakshi Amman

Yesterday I was blessed with another year of life, another year of living within this human prison, and I felt there may just be more purpose to my existence. The yearning was back, the calling grew stronger and for some reason I had the strong urge to go to Kanchipuram to seek the divine Mother. 

I get crazy spiritual ideas, that may not make sense to anyone but they are paramount to me and I follow them more than any other rule ever written. I had the deep urge to wear rudraksha constantly, and sure enough quality thoughts flowed in during puja. It’s a time when I get instruction, it’s when I read every thought as divine grace, and it’s when I am conscious of which thoughts to kill and which ones to keep. During puja, I wait without expectation, without much wishing and seek the next steps as they pour in from the divine world into my little mind. And I just take what’s given, no arguments for the ego is dead at that moment. 

The calling was loud, the thought persisted and the steps unfolded in my mind. I was not very far from the day I was born years ago, and I had to do things really fast. I was advised to take the rudraksha that I had worshiped with the Lord for the past several years and string them into a strong chain. There was a need for haste and I rushed over to the jewelers shop with my little precious rudrakshas to get them strung. I was thankful they arrived well ahead of time. They were consecrated at the feet of Tara Ma and stayed there for three days being worshiped.

Finally the night arrived, and though I planned to get sleep early, I could barely catch a wink, it was the first time, and I had spent the week mustering up my courage and fears to hit the road to Kanchipuram on the highway alone, and now the time had come. Up fresh at 3:00am and ready to go, I hit the road at 4:00am. The night sky was gloomy, the winds were strong and the rain had wet the roads. I had to be careful with my speed and through the highway with occasional vehicles around me, it was a crazy drive into the darkness. It was amazing for not a thought of fear ever struck me on the road. I felt free, free of bondage, free of humankind, free of karma, free of everything... I was driving into oblivion and enjoying every moment of it. 

As I neared kanchipuram, I realized I might just make it in time for the Abhishkam of the great Mother. How lucky would I be! Armed with a gorgeous Saree, a garland of lotus flowers and some Archana offerings, I confidently walked in towards the sanctum. The crowds were huge and on this auspicious day of Chitra Pournami, I was just glad I was born on this day. I reached behind the main sanctum and placed my request to the security guard. While he couldn't promise me anything, he allowed me through to have an up-close darshan of the Mother. Seated in front of her, absorbing her divine presence, every anxiety to want to see her just flew off the mind. She was there, in front of me, in my heart and for now... my mind went blank. I shook in my seat, observing every bit of her form, her graceful body as she sat on her seat, getting ready for her bath. The shastris took the garland and the saree, while I held on to the silver chain that held my precious rudrakshas with me. I handed it over to the main priest, who was in silence right through the entire operation. He worked with gestures and the security guard deftly unfolded their meaning. (Reminded me of Karz for a brief moment, except that he didn't tap on a glass)

The rudrakshas lay on the Mother's lap absorbing all her divine grace while my heart worked hard to fill itself with love for the Mother, and my eyes worked even harder etching her form into my mind and I sat still for as long as I could, not disturbing any of the functions underway. In a short while, the head priest came back, returning the rudrakshas to me and having learned the strict aachaaram being followed I raised my hands but carefully didn't meet the eyes of the priest. He threw a pomegranate at me in typical Brahmin style, and I scrambled over the floor trying to catch it. (clearly I don’t play cricket yet with my kid) 

I rose up, thinking this was the end for I wasn't permitted to continue sitting there to watch the abhishekam. He gestured me to see the other forms of the Goddess on the other side of the inner sanctum wall. This was a blissful moment intellectually for I learned of Varahi, Annapurni, Lakshmi, Mahishasuramardhini, Bhairava and a lot of other Goddesses who sat within the niches of this great shrine. Clearly during the Chola time, this temple was not as large as it is today, it was way smaller. The Vijayanagar Kings had added the other prakaras to this temple over a period of centuries and now they had merged so well into each other... the difference could hardly be seen. But this is a tantrik strong hold, and I love every bit of this shrine. Adi Shankara had got it so perfectly right. 

I was ushered out of the chamber, and sent back to the guard. I was happy though I looked at him with a stray hope to get a glimpse of the abhishekam. He pointed me to another guard who took me to a seat directly in front of the mother, on a higher platform outside the sanctum. I was excited, I didn't ask for this, from here it was a bonus. I sat through the entire abhishekam, reciting Mrityunjaya swaying with the flow of the Mother being bathed inside the shrine. Every version of her looked gorgeous and Adi Shankarcharya was not exaggerating when he wrote the lines describing her form. They described her so well, I am tempted to go back again and read the Soundarya Lahari and map it to the etching in my mind.

She is straight backed, voluptuous, and slim. She follows the tenets of the making of a beautiful woman, she was the personification of that form. The curtains were drawn and the crowds went silent. I will never get enough of her, I knew that for sure. They drew the curtains again and this time she was ready, all her alankaram in place, she just looked every bit a bride, every bit a lover, every bit a damsel, every bit the great Mother, every bit ... 

We were asked to get up to leave, the security guard sent me back to the earlier one and I was ready to pay what every he wanted. I was just so thrilled. I stood at the back of the sanctum, as I watched the head priest gesture in his silence, frantically asking for me to come in. I quietly walked in, not knowing what to expect. I was quickly palmed off to another priest who I figured was his brother. He asked me about myself, my where about and placed a vcard into my hand. I was confused but took it anyway. He told me to mail him and render any help that I could towards their website. 

I was sent back into the sanctum, this time made to sit in front of the Mother again, and the whole thing played out once more, I saw her up close, this beautiful bride, this celestial being from heaven, this great Mother of Love. I quickly handed over the rudrakshas back to the priest and requested him to place it over the Sri Chakra. It was the only pending item in my divine list of activities. I was sent back to varahi and after bowing to all the Goddess around me, I returned back to the Great Mother. The chain was handed over, and the priest spoke with a lot of respect, considering he had been shouting at all the other folk, I was very lucky. As I turned to leave, the head priest broke his silence... all he said was "Call me when you get home". 

I nodded and walked out without paying anyone anything. The purity of Brahmin culture was visible for a few seconds thanks to the divine grace of the Mother, as I paid the security guard handsomely for his effort. I was fulfilled with the experience, fulfilled with the calling, fulfilled with the strong belief that the Divine Mother indeed communicates with me in her strange way. I walked out on to the streets of Kanchi, free from bondage, free from attachment, free into the world of divine love as the warm sun blessed me with its light. I felt I was finally home, and more than anything else, I felt deep down that Tara Ma had reappeared in the form of Kamakshi Amman. Divine grace had touched me again and I couldn't have asked for a better gift on my birthday.