A Sweet Smile of Sublime Beauty

It was the first glimpse I caught of her, she appeared settled on the sacred seat within the sanctum of the Kanchi temple. Kamakshi Amman smiled back at me in quiet demeanor. My thoughts flew off my mind as my eyes rolled over every aspect of the sanctum, taking her form in. Her face smeared with sandal wood housed the most beautiful smile and her eyes gazed straight back at me.

My heart welled up with emotions, my mind rested blankly in a void, and I just gazed back at her. We have known each other for a while now, our relationship has evolved in quiet silence. She is everything to me and she had called me back to Kanchipuram again unexpectedly, as I drove down the geriatric folks of my family to her doorstep. I wasn’t going to miss this for anything. The corporate world could wait a day for me, for when she called, every body would wait. It was a crazy day, with a customer visit lined up in the afternoon, I had taken the chance. She had called and I found myself hitting the highway to Kanchipuram with an eye on the time to reach my workplace by lunch. It was a crazy schedule but the heart clearly ruled the mind as I sped up the road to reach her world.

I stared back at those divine eyes, they spoke to me in their silence. I observed her chamber, she was warm even in the distance that separated her from me. I was simply speechless feeling every moment of the void in my head. With emotions welling up in my heart I just took every bit of her into myself. I had been blessed to witness her “vishwaroopa darshanam”, a glorious view of her I had never seen before, a form she blesses us with once every year. She oozed with charm, beauty flowed through every part of her being as she stared back at me, I recollected the sweet verses of the Soundarya Lahari. Oh yes, she was every bit an ocean of beauty, of compassion, and of warmth and unconditional love.

The emotions I feel towards her, are those I would never be able to feel towards anybody else. There is so much love for her that wells up when I see her. I know she is there, welcoming in the warmth of the lamp light that brightens her face. She had called me, and I had dashed to her door step, quite literally to learn what it is to love her again, to feel the divine grace envelop me as I stood there mesmerized by her beauty. The chamber was different today for a cow stood at the ardha mandapa with her calf cozy at her feet. The cow stared back at me quite comfortable with strangers around her. There was no one in the chamber, just the divine mother and me, and we connected in silence, in emotions, in strange love that left me detached from the rest of the world. Nothing mattered, expect her. Nothing was important except her. Nothing existed except her. Nothing drove me to such a level of intense love except her. Nothing was more powerful than the void that hung inside my head. Was this what I felt, unconditional love, sweet surrender, a crazy sense of freedom from every aspect of my life. I felt freedom for those few minutes, when no one mattered, because no one existed, I was and she was and nothing else was.

I looked at her feeling a deep sense of bliss. The state of overpowering intense love and a blank mind was hard to come by, I was there at this moment, a tremendous sense of peace draped my being. This is what I called freedom, I belonged no where, I belonged to no one, and yet I was hers to own. I knew no time for she was all that stood. I felt no desire or attachment for she was all the truth I knew. Such depth of freedom and detachment from the bonded world around me made me realize just how much no one owned me. I was alone here, without rules, without any sense of connection to what I thought was the universe around me. I knew then that I am a potent drop of intense love in her ocean of beauty reflected in that divine smile on her sacred face, in pure sublime union with the Goddess.

I am her, she is me and that is the only truth I behold.


Kamakshi or Kamakhya - It is the power of the Goddess that matters

In the dark environs of Tantrik supremacy, every step into a physical temple is a leap into once own divine self. Kamakshi, as she is called, gives a deep flavour of the nature of Sati, that of Parvati, that of the consort of the great Lord Rudra. Kamakhya beholds a shrine, Kanchipuram displays her feminine beauty. Great poets like Adi Shankara have sung her praise, outlined her potential physical form, not just as a Goddess, but as that element of power that adorns the features of what we experience as a “woman”.

The Kalika Purana describes the beauty of Sati, the essence of womanhood, the one who all the Gods believe is the right consort to Lord Shiva. Kamakshi, the essence of love, describes her form as the powerful lover, with sweetness that can intoxicate, and potency that can blind the senses of any Bhakta. Saktaism is not for the weak, when it comes to the Goddess, Bhakti alone speaks. This state of heightened emotions leaves us aspiring for more of that divine love. What is that state of love, what is that state of emotion that makes the physical, spiritual and mental states come together. Surrendering oneself to the divine force brings that sacred numbness to our thoughts. All that matters is the Goddess within. 

The din of the surroundings are no longer heard, the jostling crowds no longer bother us, the darkness of the cave brings us closer to what is the potency of the goddess. Love isn’t just about sexuality, love is about intellect, love is about unpredictability, love is about miracles and love is about fearlessness. These emotions rule us and guide us, making us ever aware that a career in spiritualism is not a joke, it demands way more diligence from us … the question is are we ready to give it, are we capable of such love.

The poetry of Adi Shankar in the Soundarya Lahari can be taken as a sensual reproduction of the Goddess’s physical form. But what the Soundarya Lahari actually wants to convey is the power of the mystical beauty of the Goddess. It is not just about how she looks, it is about the nature of her power. The sacred SriChakra is her mystical embodiment, mixed with the essence of sacred syllables and offered to the fire. She is the one who glows in the heat of divine love, the one who raises the potency of sacred juices, the one who rules the mystical sciences of tantra, and the one who extracts the abstraction of divinity in miracles. 

Miracles are not a one of experience, they can be a regularity which means that life is transforming from within and people in the mundane don’t matter anymore. Worshipping her sacred feet delivers the power of the mystical arrows that adorn her toes. She is a throbbing energy that is within me, one that people can feel but cannot describe. The prescribed existence of human behaviour is questioned by the unpredictability of the spiritual universe, yes, these two worlds are not the same and when the rules of the spiritual world start to apply in the Maya  that we live in, the outcome is baffling, even to the Bhakta. Transformation in spiritualism is the maturity one achieves in the mind, in the body and in the soul after complete surrender. The meaning of surrender here is the complete acceptance and consciousness that the divine parent is her, and not our earthly parent, that we are here temporarily and we shall go, that the people we call family are lost souls brought together into a bond with rules that apply only in earthy relationship and in no other realm and finally that we are alone, we came here alone and we will leave alone. A long as this reality is achieved and all attachments broken, the essence of life, and death, and the soaring love between the understanding of these two events brings the much needed enlightenment into our otherwise insipid lives. 

Ritual worship is an outward expression of an inner desire to seek the supreme, the depth of one’s own emotion (if we are ever capable) stitched together with the bringing together of all our senses. 5 senses offer 5 elements to the Gods, fusing what is material with what is spiritual in the presence of sacred white fire. Miracles are the outcome of such worship, events that are unpredictable leaving us asking for more of such sacred occurrences. But to get here, one needs to give up fear, and the familiar. The question is - are we capable?


The Art of Information Architecture in Temple Architecture.

We have been told that Information Architecture tries to map the mental model of the end users. What is this mental model and are they really users? 

First let’s define whether they are “users” or “be-ers”. The idea of information architecture is to dive into the universe of what makes these people “BE” themselves rather than discover what they would “DO”, since they are what they are and they are not expected to do anything except just be themselves. 

Is information architecture about finding one’s way around a temple discovering its various parts or is it about understanding the underlying impact of one’s own psychology during this physical journey? Nothing explains this experience better than a trip down into the darkness of the ancient temple. The purpose of a temple served multiple needs, not only was it a place of social interaction in later years, its primary purpose was to unite the human side of a person with their God side! 

Let’s first probably agree we have a God side to us, the ancient structure re-enforced this inherent thought back to us. 

The basic actionable Information Architecture in temple architecture is the path of circumambulation around the main sanctum of the temple. The emblem of the supreme resides at the center and is visible in lamp light, a sacred fire that illuminates the little chamber, and the path around it is the single dedicated effort a person makes in all sincerity to worship the power of the supreme within. Is this enough to trigger the basic need of unconditional love towards the supreme - Bhakti! The ancients devised a far more complex strategy to ensure such emotion flowed as the user walked through the walls. 

Not only was the path defined as clockwise in all temples, but it was the basic need to demonstrate one’s sacred emotion of love to respect the power within in addition by circumambulating it. The combination of darkness and the rays of sunlight that decorated the inner chamber added to this experience, bringing a certain mysticism towards it. Small gaps in the ceiling of the temples enhanced the inner WOW experience within the mind of the be-er as they took the journey towards the self within these walls. 

Now, Information architecture was not just restricted to the path between the pillars, as the darkness grew and the sunlight reduced, the lamp lights lit up the interior into a make-belief heavenly world where the deities in their various exploits revealed themselves through the niches. These sculptures were not just about anybody, there was a whole science behind who stood within which niche and throughout the temples across the geography of India, these rules applied. 

If a Bhakta walked through the inner passage around the sanctum of a Shiva temple, they would see the forms of Ganesha, Devi, Nataraja, Lingodhbhava Shiva, Dakshinamurthy Shiva, Bhairava along the passage. These avatars are a must, and in addition to this, in the south the Bhakta silently associates with greater devotees like the Nayanars, 63 saintly poets in all who sang the praise of the Lord during their lifetimes. The idea of this experience being, they just didn’t walk through plain walls into darkness, their minds associate with the principle forms, connect with the undercurrent of the cult, understand its principle reasons for existence, its teachings, the core philosophy and relate to it at a far more powerful subtle level than just “doing” a walk around the sanctum. 

My understanding is that the essence of Information Architecture was far more resonant in the early ages of our ancients than what we apply today for the time to think and derive a method was that much more potent, essential and spot on. They didn’t focus on what people did, they focused on what people wanted to be and that is probably why best practices of Information Architecture during their time was far more effective that what we are building today, in the medium of digital. 

Strangely, rock brought home an in-depth feeling of comfort zone compared to digital of the present age and the resulting ROI was far more effective as it crossed centuries withstanding the test of time.


The Art of Wow Factors in Ancient India

While going through sacred texts I can’t but help draw a parallel between the works of Adi Shankaracharya in the Soundarya Lahari and the poetry of Bharavi in the Kiratarjuniya Mahakavya, both poets were contemporaries of each other ranging between the 6th century and 8th century. There was a flurry of activity in the world of literature and poetry at the time. Bharavi was the Pallava court poet with affluence even in the Chalukyan courts of the time. Adi Shankaracharya in comparison was an ascetic and yet both personalities dived into literature and poetry to showcase the depth of their devotion. Adi Shankara sang his poetry in the name of Kamakshi Amman of Kanchipuram while Bharavi cleverly combined the story of Arjuna and the hunter in the forest with Bhagirathi’s penance in the Descent of the Ganges, attributing his deep devotion in both stories to Lord Shiva. 

The panel of Mahabalipuram describes the story of Arjuna as the hunter who fights Lord Shiva and finally gains his confidence and is blessed with the Pasupatrastra to fight the Kauravas in war. In the same breath, Bhagirathi is also potentially inscribed on the same panel worshipping Lord Shiva (shown with the ganas) seeking his intervention to break Ganga's force when she descends to earth from the heavens. While there is a lot of politics sculpted on one side on this panel, there is a narrative that shows a hunter doing chores in the forest in a sculptured comic strip. They main focus though is Shiva, the largest overwhelming being on the sculptural panel.

Kiratarjuniya Panel, Mahabalipuram

So where is the wow factor in this elaborately carved out canvas in rock? The beauty in the panel is on display when it rains. The water collects at the top of the rocky panel (now blocked and filled with rubble!!) and flows down through the “river” carved into the rock right at the centre depicting the beautiful descent of the Ganges, reliving the poetry of the great Bharavi. The water falls into the pool below bring the large elephants back to life as they drink water from the pool. This experience is not just about viewing a panel coming to life but packed with a lot of spiritual and political meanings within the depictions of the panel. One can keep staring at the panel to just relive the moment as seen through the eyes of Bharavi. 

Let's move to the poetry of Adi Shankara in the Soundarya Lahari. He describes the sensuous beauty of the Goddess through his lines and at the same time prescribes the way to higher spiritual progress through the activation of the Kundalini Shakti. In the same breath he elaborates the various swarupas on the Goddess’s face as she blesses her devotees. The experience of shanta swarupa (peace), ghora swarupa (terrific), sounmya swarupa(happy) and most importantly, the movement of her eyes in her side glance has been greatly described in Adi Shankara’s poetry. The poetry itself comes with its rhythm and mystical flavour that brings devotion and power through the sounds embedded in individual verses. Here too there is a hidden wow factor, not in the poetry itself but in the experience of its knowledge while viewing the sacred Abhishekam of the deity at the temple of Kanchi. 

In the early hours of the morning, at the time of sunrise, the Goddess is given the sacred bath - Abhishekam. It is not just a sacred bath, it comes packed with an experience of pure bewilderment for the eyes to behold. And if you are well versed with the work of the great poet Shankara, you have signed up for an amazing experience of reliving the poet’s artistic work. Through a devotional experience of two hours at the temple, as the priests meticulously bathe the Goddess, she expresses her features. Pure water pouring over her form reveals her ghora rupa, the milk abhishekam reveals her shanta swarupam, and the sandalwood paste on her face reveals her Soumya swarupam. And just as we imbibe this magic of discovery, the priest takes the flame up to her face in Arti to reveal the side glance of her eyes, with a slight smile on her face. 

Is it the play of light or the genius of the sculptor to make such a ravishing form and almost brings her to life when light moves over her divine face. Its not just the breath taking beauty of her form and the symbolism of her love, but the very experience that she sits there alive and breathing in front of us, giving us the grace of this wonderful experience of her side glance.  

In both examples, the poets sang in praise producing great literary works and the sculptors brought their works to life in stone. Water was used as an essential ingredient to bring up the wow factor seasonally or daily in each case. And the experience was left in the hands of the viewer to imbibe and relive every time they looked at these phenomenal works of art that drove devotion, touching the emotions of the onlooker. Now this is pure user experience at play, when art, literature, mythology and lifestyle work hand in hand to bring an emotional experience embedded deep within the onlooker’s heart to life. 

Photo courtesy: www.holidify.com, Remote Traveler.


Time - A Concept apparently Understood but not Realised

They say the only constant is change.

Spiritually speaking there is a big flaw in this statement. On the face of it, it is as true as it can get but if we chose to deep dive, it will have a degree of inadequacy that we failed to see. 

Change starts with the knowledge of time, and in our world time governs every thing. It is in our nature to accept time as a part of our life so much that we have taken it for granted. We have never attempted to question what life would be like without it. That question is so difficult to answer. The idea of time is ingrained within us, as a part of our nature. On the surface it appears as a clock, but deep inside it far more vicious than that. If we could attempt to eliminate the concept of time from our ideology, we would see the world in a lot different way. 

Our very growth, from childhood to adolescence to youth to old age is a journey bound by time. But if you dig deeper into the concept, it is limited to the physical body. The physical body has an expiry date. It will last only that long and if we abuse it constantly it may not last as long as wished. And hence if we had to reduce the attachment we had to this physical body, bring down the importance of it, and run it like a sheath the notion of time as an overpowering reality ceases to exist as I am no longer the body. 

We can actually dig even deeper into this idea. Our relationships are equally time bound, not by death but by the nature of perception of the relationship. We are social yes, but each relationship has a flavour. Those who we thought we knew since childhood are potential strangers today. We don’t relate to some of them. And those with whom we build relationships, have their own lives to lead, hence the relationship itself can move from stranger > acquaintance > best friend > contempt (familiarity) > disagreement > distance > stranger. This journey that we do with people brings in an ageing of the relationship. It doesn’t always have to be negative as in the case of the previous example, but if it is positive and if we want to push the boundaries of the relationship itself, it can lead to bigger miracles unexplored by humans. Most relationships of (pure) love (not lust), where the love is a definition between a man and a woman, potentially move in the direction of unity as we are wired that way. It is in the nature of a human to love, and it is in the nature of a human to express that love physically, mentally, ideologically. But there too, the love has its age. The familiarity brings in the change. It is time bound, the relationship has a maturity - defined by time, whether it lasts or not is not the concern. The point is, the relationship goes through a journey, time bound journey with growth and maturity of the individual players and depending on each one’s capability to evolve, it teaches them new things or it enables them to tolerate each other. The bottom line is, what the relationship started out as and what it ended as are not the same thing. There is a journey and hence the relationship too is heavily dependent on time. 

The very nature of our existence needs questioning. The scriptures talk about 4 states, Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vanaprastha, Sanyasa. These are essential states to go through before death, to enable us to reach the maturity to accept death. At birth we are alone, helpless and bewildered and at death too we have the same state. The in-between, is a time bound affair that is a set pattern handed down to us as the way of “optimal living” to evolve as human beings. While Sanyasa is given up as a practice unfortunately, old age is starting to look like a horrible monster that needs to be tamed. Each state has a significant learning to add to our maturity. 

I am actually going to apply the 4 D methodology of User Experience to define this. The first stage of life is Barhmacharya which is all about Discovery - of the self, of the others, of the world, of the tantalising nature of the opposite sex. It is overpowering and we succumb, we remain bewildered for a while. In fact we are not even taught how to question it or fight it, we are tuned to go right into it with great "pomp and show". 

The state of Grihasta is all about Defining - Who we are, what we want from life, what our dreams are, who we want to procreate with and take the seed of immortality further. Note, people may not find a purpose to life, but they definitely find purpose in a family. Our core animalistic purpose is to procreate and there is excitement to fulfil. We are incomplete without it, our potency is defined by it, it is a matter of pride. 

The third state is Vanaprastha, a state where we need to Design our path towards the inevitable. It is cyclic, mundane, every day looks the same. It borders on boredom as we are slaves of time. We start to fail here, because the core purpose of this state is to understand the purpose of the previous state and move on. To let the offspring fly off from the nest. To emotionally disconnect from owning the offspring. This stage is to bring the maturity that we need to move on, on our own, into silence, into the self. 

The last stage is Sanyasa, to Deliver oneself fully mature and ready to exit. There is no point fighting to keep the body running, there is no point fighting to stay in the family and there is no point to want to be relevant. We simply are not, not physically, not ideologically, we are not relevant and to come to terms with that truth is an art to be pursued in this stage. We are ready to be delivered to the next stage of existence, what ever it is for the body now is going to fall, the mind is going to cease and the soul will leave. 

This degree of maturity needs be arrived at and we are built to use the mind and the heart to do the right kind of evolving. Logic and emotion if controlled can surpass the illusion created by time because it is so subtle, it is difficult to work with. The true meaning of detachment is to look at time from a distance, to look at relationship from a distance and to look at the body from a distance as if none of these three aspects ever belonged to us. 

It is therefore possible to dive into the inner meaning of the self. The actual constant, is within us and it is not change or time. It is that state of mind which is NOT bound by time. That which is perennial. The Vigyana Bhairava Tantra tries to explain this state. The time we have from now to death, is to practice this way of life, to make death understandable. The outer bodily sheath has to be discarded, that is the rule of life. It is the evolution of the self to want to leave it and conquer the illusion of time that really matters. 


Conversations with the Dead

With every passing day of life and despite the integral presence of the mundane, (which is nice but I don’t always appreciate it) the thought that I am here for a limited period of time has not failed to cross my mind several times. I am still trying to grapple with the purpose of life, the basic reason for my existence and of course where am I headed from here. 

I have been immersed in the sacred scriptures, they are the source of all wisdom that has percolated into my mind. They are extremely enlightening in their poetic realm and yet I feel the lacuna, that I am not doing enough to answer this very deep and pertinent question. It has been even louder ever since two individuals left their earthly states, one who I loved dearly and one who I didn’t. They both affected me, in good and not so good ways. One ensured she remained relevant emotionally to me and the other ensured she messed with me completely, not intentionally though. They have left without a trace, owing nothing to the world and probably never to be remembered again. They had little to share materially and yet they had a significant impact on my mind.. the living mind. To keep it simple, let me refer to them as the good one and the lost one. 

What intrigues me is not just their exit, but the way they left their earthly sheath. The good one led a life of authority, keeping her herd together, ensuring the “family” didn’t break into nucleus bits. She guarded her fort ensuring no trouble from the outside and ensuring no trouble from the inside though she did come with a bus load of bias. She made rules and we toed the line. For all her autocracy which did get to her children at some point as they took pleasure in letting her know she needed to withdraw rather than govern, she did what she had to despite the inner opposition. Blamed, defamed and shot at almost every day, she ensured her pack stayed close to her taking all the brickbats in her stride. What mattered to her was a homogeneous family though that rule had started to fade quite a bit. What may have looked like an old age of turmoil, culminated into the most peaceful death within half an hour. She suffered no disease, she simply gave in to the call of death when it came… yes she had been waiting, we all had been waiting. She had not been super spiritual, she had deep attachments and she ensured she fed that desire well. She had outlived her time and yet it was the most peaceful exit that unfolded in front of our eyes. I held her hand one last time before she turned cold, she had left but her body remained plugged in at the hospital… just the mass of flesh breathing, the consciousness that was her had found its way out of her earthly sheath already.

In contrast, the lost one had been nothing but a trouble maker and maybe she didn’t even know how much of a trouble maker she was. She had given sleepless nights to many, created chaos in households and believed she wasn’t wrong at all. Spinster till death, she proclaimed to be the mystical one, the spiritual one and yes, we have crossed swords in the past. She defined her life differently, scoffed at the institution of marriage and the fall out that are children. Men were still her prey, and she craved for that attention. And yet, spiritualism for what ever reason was her definition of who she was. A master at communication with a charm that I could die for, yes she had a presence that couldn’t be ignored no matter how much I tried to push her out of my world. She came to haunt me in the weirdest of ways. For the spiritually inclined and one who had dedicated her life to Arunachala, apparently, her passing was a hell only she would have known how much she was subjected to. Lonely, misguided and with a host of physical ailments she fought her last war with the God of death, screaming her way through uncontrollable pain before she succumbed. She left me even more baffled, as the news of her last days trickled into my world. How or why was a person so mesmerised by the spiritual given such a torturous death? 

It has been a while since the passing of these two women, and yet their last days remains etched in my mind, keeps me speechless and makes me wonder about what impact the nature of the passing has with respect to the life we have chosen to lead. I wouldn’t believe it if we said, we have no control… we have all the control, we just need to define how we want to use it. It would be naive to believe that the one who was seeped in attachment of the family should have been granted a more painful death than the one seeped in spiritualism. And yet the reverse logic made me sit up and think, what exactly is the purpose of life and does it have an impact in the method of what death is inflicted on us. Death has intrigued me a lot more than life, and I have contemplated endless hours on the connect between these two realities. The life I live is incidental, what I make of my death is more important. And if I have to ensure the peaceful exit that I crave for, what would it take to fix the remaining of my life while the clock ticks on. 

I am still thinking, while the loud mundane shows its glamorous self to me I am trying very hard not to be enamoured by its presence. The silence that beats within my mind while I watch the chaos outside, is something I want to explore more… the answer lies there. I am here, you are here, we have a relationship undefined. Is there more to this connect or are we just spending our time coping with the mundane around us… its a decision we need to take, now, seriously to ensure a little that we have some answer to our earthly presence before we let go this sheath. The question really is do we fight the Lord of death, or embrace him. 


The Dilution in the Institution of Marriage

Originally, when this ideology was formulated there were 4 stages to living that were tuned towards the overall development of a person from Birth to Death. These 4 stages were conditioned to enable comfortable exit from life once a person had led it “to the fullest”. It started with Gurukula, Grihasta, Vanaprasta and Sanyasa as a broad classification that covered a range of years in the person’s lifetime. Along the way, gurukula was a must have for men and a nice to have for women but Grihasta dominated the whole social landscape so much so that Vanaprastha and Sanyasa are unheard of in today’s lifestyle, in fact they may be ridiculed. 

Its unfortunate, but the need to live with one's own self has been overshadowed by the need for companionship. Grihasta is integral to the social system for it ensures procreation, immortality in some form by the extension of the genes. It doesn’t focus on the inner development of each individual in the relationship and the outcome on the relationship there after. Following a set of rules for comfortable living isn’t exactly living life to the fullest. Knowing one's own nature, coming to terms with it and attempting to live with one’s own self is far more challenging that just leading a mundane existence by following a set of rules. In fact, it may just get restrictive. Everyone is growing old, a day less towards their exit with every rising sun. Self discovery, self stress, self love, and self preservation do take precedence but it doesn’t appear as if we are getting any wiser with age. Yes, the metamorphosis from youth to old age happens anyway without our consent, and we are left coping with it, trying to appear young and acceptable to the world around us, in an inner desperation for acceptance in the familiar world.  

Why is it so difficult to acknowledge old age? Why is it a larger nightmare to face than death itself. I have seen people struggle to be wanted, to be of “use”, escapists from the dignity of isolated living. We eventually are thrown there anyway by the younger less respecting folk in the family. In a changing universe of fewer human principles of good living and larger tilt towards greed, how can we claim to be superior when we are tumbling down into the very marsh of inferior thinking. 

Two people meet and decide to join forces to lead a life, procreation ensures a bond and progeny. The deed is done, stability largely has been achieved on the exterior. What about self growth, what about the challenges of dealing with one’s own self, the inner aspirations that haunt us while the outer social rules prove challenging to accept our way of thinking or being. I have seen a lot of people go through stress post 40, when they take on the baton of responsibility, when the older and the younger are dependent on them emotionally or financially. Added to that is the compatibility quotient between the pair. Even if it strikes a full 100% is that called complete living or is it convenient and are people missing a larger point altogether? Any one of the pair will quit sooner than the other, what happens then? Why is the mind so stitched into heavy emotional dependency outside of oneself when the hard truth at the end of the road is - you die alone, you can’t quite take your companion with you!

People change as they grow up, they may not remain the same for too long. As they discover themselves through the call of fate, they realise deeper aspects of living along the way. The same companion may not have done that distance hence that maturity to understand the change is not achieved. What degree of hypocrisy does the relationship face when one can’t share one’s own learning curve with the companion who apparently started out as a soul mate. This puts a lot of question on the permanence of marriage as an ideology. Clearly it was not meant to be a permanent affair as self growth and realisation at some point overshadows procreation which is done and dusted. Is the mundane the only way to lead life? I don’t think so, there is a lot more to discover about oneself beyond stability and procreation which unfortunately will not be achieved if inner contemplation isn’t exercised, given the looming presence of old age. 

Vanaprastha has unfortunately taken a turn for the worse. While there are old age homes cropping up everywhere the intent appears extremely negative as discarding of the older folk because of their lack of usefulness and greater irritable presence. Compare that to a decision taken by the elderly to lead a dignified old age in isolation, on their own. Vanaprastha is not as much a physical shift from the family but an emotional and mental shift of disconnection. The larger nightmare of old age sees quite a bit of uncertainty in one’s life. In the ancient times, Vanaprastha was meant to solve this very discord in the mind, but it has been done away with by society for all the wrong reasons. So is society right when things change for the worse and none of us can individually control it. Be it heightened interest in materialism or abysmal interest in goodwill, this society has done nothing right to enable itself to get wiser. So how do we claim to be superior except by feeding our egoistic nature within the same pool of crabs? Are we just not ridiculous as a species?

Sanyasa, a state of non expectation, a state of wisdom with detachment towards the madness around us is the perfect place to reach before death. Unfortunately neither the environment nor the self drive enables us to reach there. With the given landscape a peaceful death will only remain a far fetched dream… leave alone the need for accomplishment. No wonder… there are no Sages in our times…. 


Faith - A Subtle Lesson in the Spiritual World.

I wonder sometimes why spiritualism has not active takers, true seekers I mean. I realise one has to be as close as sage like, confronting every thought or concept around oneself. It takes a combination of intellect and emotional unconditional love to want to even understand the other side, leave alone getting there. I am trying to understand what about it makes it so inaccessible and gives us a feeling of always falling short. 

When I look at the world around me I see people just going about their lives not realising half it's potential. Is there something more than what is visible? I would say - actually Yes! But it is so subtle that it can't even be put in words leave alone being proven. Somethings about human life are greater than proving, they don't need proof to support their presence. They are, and it is our luck if we choose to experience their potential. It's like having a beautiful plant in our backyard. Chances are we never took notice of it, we have never seen it's beauty up close, experienced it's fragrance or realised it's magic but when we do, we tend to appreciate it's presence and come to understand how much we missed it all along. Well, it was always there, we just wasted time not noticing it because we considered something else way more important... for what ever reason. 

But is that really the problem? The fact that ignorance stems from not realising that we got stuck way too deep in the mundane. Yes, we can bring spice to our lives by questioning the mundane every now and then but when we start living that life, things start to change. Let’s take the same beautiful flower in the backyard. We now know it exists and it blooms every now and then but we haven’t found the time to go and spend with it. If we dedicated time to the plant, spent time with it, tended it and spoke to it and most important of all, loved it… the garden starts to look a lot more different. There is magic in there, magic we didn’t think even existed until we chose to be a part of it. This little paradise, is an extension of what our mind can do, and how it can transform the world around it, if it chose to. 

Similarly, with a mix of discipline, strong belief system and love for the divine, a lot can change. The Gods may not respond like a flower feeding our senses openly but they certainly ensure we got the point, subtly. When this change occurs it looks like a coincidence, but when they come one after the other it becomes a way of life. Miracles happen in succession and realising that change brings a host of possibilities around human potential. 

The quote "when you want something, the universe conspires to get it for you", actually starts to work here. It is a combination of our change in tune with the universe around us and that we affect it is a big deal... But it also brings with it a certain departure from the familiar world and that tends to instil fear till we are really comfortable with it. The idea is to see truth in the face, to accept everything - good and bad - as a way of life with not an ounce of discrimination (like looking at a rose and a dead body in the same light, we will mostly find them together but our mind will make the difference), thereby eliminating dualism altogether. This is when the real questioning starts to happen and we have to be really ready for the answers. We have questioned - yes, but do we have the courage to face the answer, most likely - no. 

This is where I was originally wrong, I believed people would jump to have such an experience. Apparently I was wrong, very wrong! For one, most people don’t seem to realise what they are missing, the few who do are grappling with “what just happened” and trying to seek explanation. While there are none within the purview of our limited language, it is subtle and that acceptance over a period of time starts to work on the fear we have. It is this fear that becomes our greatest enemy. It took me ages to get here, while I believed largely that I was considerably fearless, I wasn’t completely there. Its a deep sense of inadequacy and fear that we need to get over to even qualify to go to the other side, leave alone achieving things. And while most of the world around us hasn’t even reached this realm of understanding, those who have managed are struggling with self incompetence. There is the other crowd that is waiting endlessly for the magical guru to show up not realising that when we are potentially ready, they will come, but to get there, there is only one way forward - self help. 

I have had the luck of divine intervention in strange ways, when ever I was losing my focus, something would always bring me back to this. And yet that fear lurks. When the great saints say - look within - they are essentially telling us, unleash that unconditional love with you for it is the only answer to the fear we harbour. Unfortunately, the fear shouts out louder and the unconditional love is quite lost in this din. This is hoping that we have already put the noise of the mundane to rest. The inner fear of the unfamiliar, is a great place to start the investment on practicing courage, to face anything that comes through the world of contemplation. The only trump card we hold is Bhakti/faith/devotion, to want to be with the Gods no matter what hell should come in the way. Are we ready for that kind of a commitment… its continues to remain an unfortunate struggle and even a Guru may not be able to bail us out of this... because metamorphosis is a lonely journey. 


Relevance of Akharas in the Mahakumbh

Nagas at the Kumbh

Flamboyant pictures of Naga Babas and ascetics in various expressions of Sanatana Dharma have descended upon the holy city of Varanasi and Allahabad. Some of them beat our imagination on displaying their attention grabbing attires with dashes of Vermillion smeared on their foreheads. Yes, I roughly knew the importance of the Mahakumbh but this vibrance brought me to dig further, Nagas they are but who are these people really?

Ash clad, fearless, aggressive and unstoppable, these people draw their identity from the ancient ascetics group established by the great sage Adi Shankara. They belong to the Dashanami Sampradaya, the armed order of warrior ascetics, the Astradharis, who have come to sport a trishul that marks their individual identity and its presence describes them as the protectors of the Hindu ecosystem from calamity. 

They have a past, one ridden with massacre and bloodshed, they didn't kill but they were killed in thousands by the then tyrannical emperor Aurangzeb but he couldn’t wipe out their existence entirely. That's the wonder about Hinduism, it has survived every onslaught of insult and destruction till date… including the unnecessary, apparently liberal, peevish noise in social media these days, that adds to the din of normal existence.. 

Akharas today play a major part at the Kumbh, their presence is honourable as they have been the keepers of the faith, through history. But their importance in their world is defined by the politics that governs the various akharas that dot our countryside, not as much as the Hindu army that was designed to protect the intellects - the Shastradharis, or the protectors of Hinduism as envisioned by the great Seer, Adi Shankara.

Kumbh Mela 2019 Kinnar Akhada (News 18)

The Mahamandaleshwars are chosen by their peers and they come to head the respective akharas. While women still don’t have a presence here, the transgenders have taken centre stage in this Kumbh Mela. Spiritual discussions, Satsangs and solving organizational discord are the topics of discussion in these great meetings of saints. All in all its a great spectacle of spiritual brilliance and a unique flavour to imbibe if we want to explore a new world… but does it solve a deeper quest of spiritualism… am not quite sure, beyond reverence for these saintly men, they don’t quite affect our lives and ideologies anymore, except being a brilliant spectacle at the Mahakumbh. 

Naga babas are a mysterious bunch, who perform austerities in the silence of the Himalayas and descend into civilisation when the Mahakumbh calls them. There is a huge divide between them (the keepers of the faith) and us (the followers of some definition of the same faith). There must have been a time when they affected the ecosystem of the common people. In today’s world the enemy somehow doesn’t appear half as much as how Adi Shankara had envisioned it. The enemy is deep within society modernizing itself and questioning metaphysical aspects of spiritualism by the apparatus of western logic, on what purpose the Hindu way of life serves. 

Do these Akharas have the answer to a far more complex and pertinent question on the way of life that promises the vision of God in some form, tangible to human capability? While the life they lead as a recluse bunch does deserve a lot of credit, there is a very thick invisible wall that separates them from us. We are confused for sure, but gone are the days of being a witness to a discussion, one like that between Mandana Mishra and Adi Shankara… somewhere in our rat race and in the din of the virtual world… are we forgetting the true potential of the spiritual world and our individual capability to get there?

The Mahakumbh was to take us in that direction promising us salvation by a sacred dip at the auspicious hour in the Ganges, we have in today’s world reduced it to an extravagant spiritual spectacle. While there are still a few gems in that crowd who are unapproachable and probably are at the doorstep of Nirvana, the current crop doesn’t come with the vibrant charm that once walked the earth by the name - Adi Shankaracharya.

Truly such spiritual brilliance is hard to come by in today’s times.  


The Inherent Bliss in Worship

I am the state of God, Am just God, Aham Brahmasmi

The Laghunyasam has a wonderful verse embedded into it. It is the culmination of the all encompassing thought - Tat tvam asi. The more I read that verse, the more I relate to “who I am” and more importantly the more I realise “who I am NOT”. The unfortunate nature of mine to identify with my body makes it that much more difficult for me to relate to my subtle self. The subtle self is no big deal, it is not difficult to discover, it just needs time and effort to come to terms with something that is within us. It is a simple equation of who am I, should I remove the world around me, should I remove the relationships I have defined, should I remove my commitments and look at myself, in a silent room in isolation.

Tat tvam asi

The beating reality that I associate so much with my body and am such a slave to its various needs is a loud example of just how much I have moved away from my core purpose of existence. There is a distance to be covered, a bridge to be crossed between what I am and what I should be (in the spiritual world). It hasn’t been easy while I attempted to shut out the world and deep dive into “who” I really am. It takes immense courage to accept one self… given we hardly spend time there and when we do, we face some harsh realities of our own nature, which we originally didn’t sign up for. None the less, this is who we are and the sooner we come to terms with it, the sooner we chalk out what to do with it and move on. 

Faith doesn’t tell us whether we are right or wrong. Faith doesn’t throw judgement on us when the basics are in place. We are free to BE. Faith only recommends how we can grow spiritually should we work on a few aspects of ourselves. Self discipline, self restraint, self awareness, and finally self realisation. None of these have room for physical convenience or materialism. We need to discard that before we move towards the 4S.

When we are closer to this reality, our nature changes and we are more receptive towards the world around us, we are not half as angry or depressed, we are inherently happy with the world around us as the mundane doesn’t affect us half as much, people’s problems are trivialities and the defined purpose of existence has gone beyond the regular known definition. From here on we define the path, we are the path. Love overflows, jealousy and anger subside, forgiveness and compassion ooze… I am what I am and I be what I want to be. So what is this state?

प्रजनने ब्रह्मा तिष्ठतु  
Brahma is at the root

Vishnu lives in my feet

Hara - (incarnation of Shiva) lives in my hands

बाह्वोरिन्द्रस्तिष्टतु जठरे अग्निस्तिष्ठतु  
Indra lives on my shoulders, Agni resides in my stomach

हृद॑ये शिवस्तिष्ठतु
Shiva lives in my heart

कण्ठे वसवस्तिष्ठन्तु  
The vasus live in my neck

वक्त्रे सरस्वती तिष्ठतु  
Goddess Saraswati resides on my tongue

Vayu lives in my nose

नयनयोश्-चन्द्रादित्यौ तिष्टेताम्  
The Sun and Moon shine in my eyes

कर्णयोरश्विनौ तिष्टेताम्  
The ashwini devas live in my ears

ललाटे रुद्रास्तिष्ठन्तु  
Lord Rudra glows on my forehead

Adhityas live on the front of my head

शिरसि महादेवस्तिष्ठतु  
Mahadeva resides at the center of my head

शिखायां वामदेवास्तिष्ठतु  
Vamadeva resides in the tuft of my hair

पृष्ठे पिनाकी तिष्ठतु  
Shiva Pinaki guards the back of my head

पुरतः शूली तिष्ठतु  
Sooli lives on my brow

पार्श्ययोः शिवाशङ्करौ तिष्ठेताम्  
Goddess Parvati and Lord Rudra Shiva reside on my left and right.

सर्वतो वायुस्तिष्ठतु  
I am protected by Vayu - air who surrounds me 

ततो बहिः सर्वतो ग्निर्-ज्वालामाला-परिवृतस्तिष्ठतु  
Further to that I am protected by a ring of fire, that acts as a glowing garland of light.

सर्वेष्वङ्गेषु सर्वा देवता यथास्थानं तिष्ठन्तु  
All the deities are an inherent part of me

माग्ं रक्षन्तु
They protect me, they are me.

I am HE.

In this silent conversation of worship, in this love that flows, I am HE.