Visakha Hari - A concert, an enthralled audience

I heard praises
Praises of another being
A being I had wanted to be
A being I have not yet achieved

And yet it brought
Tears to my eyes
To know and to feel
Someone out there
Feels the same way as me

I know not who she is
But an audience she enthralled
Respect at her core
A world she showed
That which we all wanted to see

Tradition put forward
A simple path
Through endless seas of knowledge
A woman like me
Simpler, but much better

I heard praises
That sounded like worship
I heard praises
Like she was blessed
It left me speechless

I felt I had wavered
From my path
Something similar
Something potent
Some now pretty far

I feel incomplete
I feel inadequate
I bow to her
The same lady
Who has already walked my path.

Visakha Hari's remarkable eloquence is matched only by her delightful singing.
Photo Courtesy: The Hindu Online


Amarnath - A life to remember

Amarnath Shiva Linga. Om Namah Shivay

The last hope
The saving grace
The heart clings
With dear faith
To survive
Fears unknown

Faith, a simple word
A ton of emotion
A volume of thought
A world of energy
That controls the
Devil in the mind

Faith an inward journey
Faith a world unknown
Faith silently leads the heart
Faith a treasure to behold

When life poses
Question unanswerable
When life looks you
In the eye
To see your next action
Towards the divine
When trouble looms in the dark

The lord is everywhere
In and out
An essence captured
Within the self
Worship thee though the soul
Hoping to be heard someday

Faith is not understandable
Faith is not controlled
Faith is to be grown
At your own free will

Faith a bird that returns
Faith a thought that ever stays
Faith the only medicine to life
Faith the only road ahead

When things disappear
In this material world
When life appears tougher
For the strong built
It’s a test of endurance to see
The display of faith
From the mind's eye

Emotion there might be
Emotions there might not
What matters most
Is the self within
The beholder of energy
That drives the soul

Does God desert
To test the soul
Does God pose problems
For us to behold
Does God come forth
And hold my hand
And tell me
He loves me most

Faith my only mantra left
Faith that no man can snatch
Faith my only hope
Faith my ticket to truth

A silent life henceforth
A world departed
A lesson learnt
Trust the Lord for
He lives within
To guide the soul
Through hell.


The calling: Phone call or lizard?

It had been a while since Srinivasan had heard from his Guru. This left him feeling fairly uneasy over the unpredictability of his Guru's mind. Srinivasan had made enough calls by now to know that his Guru was just not giving him a listening. His growing dependency on his Guru left him with butterflies in his stomach wondering what had gone wrong.

Srinivasan had reached a stage in his worship. An advanced stage so to speak, where he was not entirely clear he understood what it was all about but he was definitely certain it had made differences to his life. Srini, sat back, thinking about all the miracles one after the other, that he knew he could never explain to the world but was certain he had not imagined them.

It played on his mind, each thought clear as ever giving him instructions on what to do to get his Guru's attention or at least make contact. Srinivasan lived in two worlds at the same time. One that we call the familiar and the other unknown even to him presenting him with events that left his jaws permanently dropped. He had been overdosed with the experiences, so much so that he could not think anymore. What was that life all about? With every ritual he performed he saw something new, something out of the ordinary. It was not a miracle in the real sense; it was pure events unfolding so rhythmically that he
wondered whether fate could be controlled in some form.

Simple thought crossed his mind, "What if I had not done this, would events have been different? What if I had done that, would anything have changed? Is this as bad as it gets when they warn me that I am not going to have a good day?"

Srinivasan sat back thinking hard. He saw the changes in his familiar world. He was overwhelmed; the benefits were great and they made him fly but the world of illusions was intoxicating too and he tried very hard not to get sucked into it. Srinivasan watched his mind. Thoughts flitting up and down, thoughts that stayed and thoughts that went, thoughts he entertained and thoughts he feared he even came across. Thoughts he identified with and thoughts he refused to acknowledge that they originated in his mind.

Srinivasan called again, the rings of the phone haunting his mind as he prayed for his Guru to lift the misery off his mind from the other end of the line. No answer, Srinivasan went queasy.

Finally he decided, if this method didn’t work then the ancient method would. Early next morning Srinivasan set the stage for another round of ritual. This was not as much a worship of Lord Shiva as it was a call hoping his Guru would know what he was up to.

The given chants rose into the air, slowly but strongly as he lit the lamps and sat down. The world in front of him shined and the copper turned a golden yellow in the lamp light, the mystical lines glowing with every dance of the flame. The copper bathed in water and milk and the flowers fell forth. Finally the lamp was lifted and in fiery circles the "Arti" was completed gracefully. A full circle, a signal sent, a hope that somehow someone would know that the puja had been performed.

Among the greenery that carpeted the hillside, worshipped as the Lord Himself lay a road dotted with small temples. The regular morning chants rose into the air in a soft hum that enveloped the green countryside. A man held up a flame to the Shiva linga before him and drummed away with Rudram. The fire of consciousness rising into the air lighting up the Linga decorated in all its finery within the Garbha Griha walls. Then all went silent... and he heard twelve calls. Twelve calls made by a lizard in the west within the chamber. The man looked back at the Lord and smiled. Applying a bit of Vibhuti on his forehead he walked out of the temple and smiled a satisfied smile, another puja complete by someone far away.

Six hours later Srinivasan heard his phone ring. The puja had been completed. It was a success. Srinivasan sat back, relieved. Life was good, normal as normal can be!

P.S. Based on the deeper secrets of Pakshi Shastra, an ancient science that "logically" connects animal sound and behavior to direction and maps them with life's various possible events.


Ekapada Shiva - The one legged Shiva

Ekapada Shiva, Someshwara temple Andhra Pradesh

Shiva, a common name around the house, yet an unknown icon when it comes to deep spiritualism. Considered to be the greatest in the Trinity, Shiva is still far from understood, leave alone being realized. Much as He is not half as well known as His counterpart Vishnu, His forms are equally obscure.

It would sound strange that Shiva came with more avataras than Vishnu, say 27 in all. It would be even stranger to say that He had "Lilamurthy" attributed to His name. Even more strange would be His close association with the Mother Goddess cult. This is a sea of knowledge itself and we have not even started talking about the essence of the Lingas that represent His aniconic Self.

What makes up Shiva, Who is He, and what is it that makes Him so remarkable that His presence in man's mind has lasted so many centuries through history. Is it all about faith? We definitely need a whole lot of faith to know Him, to understand Him, to experience Him but this enigmatic deity leaves a lot for us to figure out.

One of the few things which any art historian or archaeologist has still probably not been able to figure out is the rare iconographic representation of Shiva in the form of the Ekapadamurthy. Of course there seems to be an Ekapada Shiva or the one legged Shiva as well as an Ekapada Trimurthy, which makes it all too confusing.

Ekapada Shiva is a rarity in Indian Iconography, considered to be a Lilamurthy of Shiva and found in all of two places. One is found in Chaunsath Yogini temple is Orissa where he is more commonly known as Ajaikapada Bhairava and the other is found in Someshwara temple Andhra Pradesh. In both cases He is found in close association with the Mother Goddess cult, specially Chamunda. He seems to be very closely associated with the Tantrik cult, a probable influence of the Sakta cult originating in Bengal in close association with Tantrik practices.

The Tantrik cult had a very strong influence in Orissa and Andhra pradesh and a bit of it trickled into Tamil Nadu. There have been references to Ekapada Shiva found in Mahabalipuram but there is no visible proof to support that yet.

For now, this is what Ekapada shiva looks like:

Ekapada Shiva, Someshwara temple, AP. Depicted here with Chamunda dancing in a niche above Him.

Ekapada Shiva, Chaunsath Yogini temple. Also known as Ajaikapada Bhairava

Photo courtesy:
Original photos ©2002 Michael D. Gunther, Glossary of Indian art.
Original photos: http://ganapati.free.fr/ Mukhalingam.


Secrets beneath the Garbha Griha

Its might appear very strange and intriguing that Shiva Lingas get unearthed at construction sites or any place when people dig the earth up. There have been remarkable moments in Indian History where the Paramacharya Sri Chandrashekar Swamigal Himself has pointed to location where there were sure possibilities of an ancient Shiva Linga within the earth. To name a few would be the Shiva Linga unearthed at Madhya Kailash, Taramani Chennai and at the Shankara Matt at Thiruvanaikkaval Srirangam.

The Shiva Linga at Shankara Matt is particularly beautiful. Its claimed to be a Panchamukha Linga, though only four faces have been visibly sculpted into the shaft of the Linga. The fifth, typically on the top has not been carved in this case. The characterestic features of the faces takes us way back to the late Pallava, early Chola era. The pointed features and benign appearance of each face, remarkably similar such that they seem to belong to the same person rekindles the imagination With the world of the ancients.

The question now is, how did these Shiva Lingas get past the ravages of time with endurance?

Temples had a lot of thinking going into them before the very first stone was placed for its making, endless calculations not just based on how to build the temple, but to sustain it and keep it standing for the years to come. Decisions were taken to safe guard the main sanctum and more importantly the idol and its various elements from any danger of destruction.

The Garbhagriha is not constructed on the ground. It is built over another chamber which has enough sand packed into it. This chamber has four pillars that hold up the floor of the Garbhagriha over them. The floor hosts the main idol as well as its elements that constitute the idols "power". Once the Idol has been brought to "life" the temple is proclaimed a living temple and the main idol is put over to cover the secret within. Subsequently the idol is "appeared" to be worshipped while the actual worship is done for the idol as well as the elements below. The idol is a visual representation of a reality contained in the elements, today unknown to all of us, well almost unknown.

The Kumbhabhishekam is done to protect the temple and the idol from any natural disaster as well as those created by humans. Should there be trouble on a vast scale, and should the life of the "Worshipped" be at stake, the temple is designed to cave in. In cases of natural calamities, the main temple falls apart, pillars scattered after mandapas have crashed down.

At the Garbhagriha its a different story. The first to fall are the pillars right at the bottom, below the Garbha griha. They are designed to fall outwards such that they give room to the floor to fall downwards and out giving way to the Shiva Linga and its various elements to fallen through into the sand packing without being harmed or damaged. Once the Shiva Linga has fallen through it gets covered by the surrounding sand and then later by the rest of the rubble that crashes down rendering it buried safe till its unearthed at a later date.

A lot of thought and consideration went into the making and the prevention of any destruction to the Shiva Linga. This unique form of the Lord, subtly designed carries more to itself that what meets the eye. Thought went into safe guarding it, protecting it and leaving it within the lap of the earth to be dug up later for the world to see an ancient secret alive, evergreen.


Life: a battle to be won, not a moment to be lived

It would look like another day to anyone, a typical day with a new share of problems that we would have to solve, new challenges that we would have to face with surprises both good and bad. Srinivasan sat in a corner brooding. He had shot it down, his worship, his belief, his only hope left for a meaningful life.

Srinivasan had been through tough times. Tough being really tough, it had taught him a few good lessons that woke him up to strange truths about the worlds he lived in. It made him believe, be it his marriage, his job or even his life in the social circle, each was an illusion of it own kind presenting intoxicants and poisons at the same time. Then where was the truth and how could he escape it?

He posed this question to his Guru. Srinivasan had almost lost everything when his Guru stepped in to save the little left in his hands. He had gone weak, with guilt and couldn't quite believe he had broken the serious rules of orthodoxy that governed his life. Bringing himself back to the path appeared simple, though in the scale of value and importance it was imprinted in his mind for good. It was a thought that would stay in his mind 24x7 and would not leave him anymore.... easily.

He had done well at work, collecting accolades all over the place, making a comeback so strong, that had got him enough fame. The intoxication of success had given him wings, and strong ones, so strong that they could not be clipped by anyone but him. And fly he did, to heights unknown, with the intoxication rising with every additional flight. He had felt it, the high, the attention; it looked like an amazing world to be in. He almost thought he was invincible. Suddenly, the news came in, he had gone too far out and the return had to happen.

Srinivasan, descended with the same speed he had shot up, plummeting even faster that he couldn’t quite guide the fall. Now he sat in front of his Guru again, asking and begging to be saved. The next lesson of life came in and Srinivasan was taught. His values were the only stronghold he had, his respect was his only fortress and leaving this would be loosing the battle of life. Enemies would come in any form, praise, attention, success... you name it, but he would have to stay on the ground or fly lower. That was the mark of a spiritual man. He was taught to be self reliant, and not look beyond himself for attention or acceptance. He was taught that living this live means going through its labyrinth of illusion and there was no running away, the purpose was to fight it and win. Life is not about living and escaping, it’s about winning. It’s about looking at everything around like a puzzle, something that needs to be solved. It’s about looking at yourself at the moment of happiness with the same view as looking at yourself during pain.

Srinivasan thought, “Strange life! It starts only when you think you have learnt enough and you want to end it. It’s tougher than normal living where the mind can waver. Here it cant, it simply can’t and the rules are not meant to be broken, they have to be followed for a successful win, not just living.”

Srinivasan, sat back in his couch, taking a deep breath, another lesson learn, another moment of truth revealed. What matters most is self-respect, value and the sheer determination to live through with it and win.

Life is a game, one that lots play, but only few win!


Mano laya with Lord Shiva

The nature of classical music brings out the emotions within, in a controlled self-contained way where the energy within is channelized into rhythm with slow delivery. The mind can loose itself into the notes as they spill forth, and appreciation and enjoyment of the forthcoming notes brings out the emotion in the highest form.

It’s witnessed in the difference between Ananda Tandava and Rudra Tandava in Bharata shastra.

Every emotion is a display of what the human being is capable of, and if surrendered, even the heaviest emotion can be enjoyable.

Ananda Tandava
is slow, a hand holding beat that dictates the next move. The body flows slowly, the emotions finding their way through mudra. It’s like speech with the Lord Himself. The Lord dances alongside, His eyes locked in mine as we perform together in the stage of life.

As the note rises He leads, inviting me to display the next emotion. The back moves, swaying with the note, the echoing rhythm around the pillared hall, the chalangai(ghunguru) being the only connect to this realm. All feet locked within the notes, the rhythm rolls on. Its a strange experience when the emotions find ways to explode through silent moves, so self contained that their potency needs to be experienced and not understood.

A quiet world, where the eyes meet, the feet move together and the fingers bloom into mudra, each abhinaya a word in silence falling out. Such is the potency of classical music and dance, understood by few, experienced in silence, each experience a concentrate within the self brought out, felt, cherished, remembered.

Rudra Tandava, a little faster in excitement adds more flavour to the moves. The excitement within, a completely different emotion jumps forth uncontrolled. The flow of the emotion much faster this time, needs to be directed with more care for the emotions move faster than the body itself. Thats when the Lord leads the way, and I follow, unaware that every step is repeated with the same underlying mano layam(chemistry).

It’s a challenge to keep up, to walk through the minefield of sprouting emotions each in a different direction as he shows me the abhinaya to dance through in rhythm. The result is a vibrant move of the body, a sway so strong, that my incapable self manages to handle. The eyes speak in excitement, the expression reflecting on the face, as my hand slice through the air following the Lord's every step. The feet rise and fly into the air as the chalangai(ghunguru) clap to the wild swing.

Its just a world of pure emotion, a vibration in the mind, ripples cutting through the air as two bodies rhythmically move, in the light of the dancing crescent moon among the jatas that form silent black waves enveloping both into complete mano laya.

Complete emotion experienced!!


Awakening the Nadi Gantham at the Nabhi Kamalam.

The realm of Vishnu and Brahma on Ananthasayanam:

Life as we see it is a time period we exist in current consciousness and depart without knowledge of the next world. Perfect life is that which gives us a far more conscious mind, which knows exactly what happens during life and during death.
What is that perfect life? The great Chola architects have tried to depict this very concept at the temple of Chidambaram, which hosts Nataraja in Ananda Tandava.
The temple itself is a breathing reality of human life.

Our body is not just about eating, breathing and being active. There are 72000 nadis unheard of which are the integral support system of our body embedded well within our nerves system. Once inactive, life ceases to exist – we are called dead. Waking these nadis up is the stage of reaching Nadi Gantham, a higher level of purification of the body, where the 72000 dormant nadis get active transforming a person’s life into happiness, success and peace at the same time.

Where does all this stem from? Its peculiar that one of the most important Gods in the Trinity is hardly heard of these days. Brahma, the main God behind our lives assigns the bija mantra that we shall live with, the type of life we shall lead and the kind of death we would be subjected to. The awakening of the Nadi Gantham is a long process, which is attained by severe penance or can be attained sooner depending on “Purva punya stanam” meaning your deeds in your last birth that grant you the opportunity in this birth.

What happens during the first few months of birth?
The life support of the umbilical chord is cut off once the child is born. This is carefully covered to keep out any infection. During this time the child knows nothing about the world it lives in. If the soft bone of the skull closes sooner than expected at the region of the Sahasraha chakra, it means the child is not going to live long. For the next 90 days the operating system is head quartered at the Nabhi Kamalam, or the navel area. This is when the child suddenly starts to cry due to acute pain in the stomach, since it begins to swell up. After this the Nabhi Kamalam turns active, the 72000 nadis begin to function, the skull closes slowly, the bija mantra gets formed (Brahma’s talai ezhutu) and the child wakes up to its known world and recognizes Ma. During this time the only external supply is mother’s milk. These are the crucial days that decide whether the child is going to survive, and whether the child is going to do well in its spiritual life or not.

What happens during death?

Death comes in three ways. Kapala moksha is when the life energy or prana leaves the body through the small crack in the Sahasraha chakra in the head. This is what is called salvation. Its happens to select few who do not have rebirth and are lucky enough to get assisted during the moments of death. During this time the only intake is milk and tulsi water.
Most people go through death where the prana leaves the body through the Nabhi Kamalam. The navel region is that part which is the entry as well as the exit point for all who live and die in this life. The Nabhi Kamalam works as the exit door for the soul leaving the body.
The worst form of death happens to those who have cheated others, have been corrupt and have sinned through their lives. This form of death is painful to say the least. In this case, the prana leaves the body through the genitals, through the Yoni for women and through the male organ for men. This can be a saving grace if the person stays unconscious during the moment of death. But should he/she be conscious it’s the experience of suffering of the worst kind. This causes excess urination and gasping for breath at the same time, can be a deadly experience while exiting the world.

Nabhi Kamalam: Where Brahma rises out of Vishnu's navel

Of greater interest to us is the concept of the Nabhi Kamalam and its connection with our lives today. The Nabhi Kamalam is the zone that activates the Nadi Gantham or nerve centers of the body. This has been beautifully depicted in mythology where Brahma the Creator is seen seated on a lotus that rises out of Lord Vishnu's navel, who lies down on Ananthasayanam in the cosmic ocean. Truly a beautiful depiction of a concept so close to us, of something so real, and of which we are least aware of!

In conscious living the pranavom mantra OM is brought out from the “pit of the stomach” or the Nabhi Kamalam as we breathe it out as OOOMMM, the very basic form of life energy, which we experience in a glimpse through our lives. Brahma is not just a Creator, he is our life giver, he decides our future, he decides fate, and he gives life for us to live it.

Hinduism is a "science" of a higher kind, its not fiction!


A spider's way to salvation

It was a calm morning while Srinivasan sat down to offer his puja to Lord Shiva. Having organized every thing for a morning abhishekam, he lit the lamps and settled down to a routine rhythm of mantras that had been assigned for the worship.

In a little copper cup by his side he kept a dwi-mukhi rudraksha, submerged in water as instructed. The hymns began in rhythmic motion, one rhythm following another in gentle flow repeating each verse at least 18 times. It was during this moment that Srinivasan happened to notice the copper cup.

A small black spider had fallen in and stayed still sinking into the water, with absolutely no attempt to swim to safety. He wondered where it had come from. He hastily picked up the spoon from the "panchapaatra udrini"(a traditional container with a spoon that carries water, found in every household.) and helped the spider to dry ground.

Srinivasan, watched the spider, crawl around with trouble, trying to free a few of its legs from the heavy drops of water that covered its abdomen. He stared back at the Linga, with calm, smiling to himself that he had helped the creature to safety. Srinivasan’s mind went places as he recited the Rudram, to all the shrines of Lord Shiva he had visited, to all the Garbha Grihas he had stood in front of, watching the Lord in all His finery and the intoxicating ambience of those silent rocky interiors that had withstood time.

He stared back at the Spatika linga after he bathed it in abhishekam. It glowed from within the chamber of the puja room. Its glow was strange, brighter light than what he had otherwise seen. Was it the light refracting differently or was it something else? He wondered as he carried on the hymns, loosing himself yet again. Srinivasan moved the taambaalam(a brass plate) to the side carefully so as not to spill the water that had bathed the Linga. It was now holy, with mantra concentrate, every word, every breath captured in every drop of water that had fallen on the Lingam. Potent water, of which he had taken three sips, a blessing from the Gods, a portion of life for the plants when he finally poured it into their roots.

There was silence in the room yet again and Srinivasan bowed down, the final namaskaram(bow in adoration) as he prayed for peace of mind and turned to clear the place. The taambaalam contained a mirror of water, a deathbed to some and life giver to others. In the water floated the spider, now lifeless. It lay upside down, its life taken by the heavy words of worship as it departed from what we call the realm of the living. Srinivasan stared speechless, thinking hard. The spider had always wanted to die, it had looked for water, water that was potent with the power of the Lord Himself and finally guided itself to its final destination.

Srinivasan found it very strange, that the spider seemed to know what lay within the taambaalam, for its walls were high enough to contain a volume of water, that was more a sheet of death that enveloped its very life within its surface. Srinivasan was overwhelmed. While his plants grew exceptionally wilder, the power of the mantra being visible in every pore of their leaves, making them look ever so fresh, the same life giving water was now the path to salvation for a small spider that had insisted to end its life within it.

Srinivasan sat back, a tear rolling down his eyes, as he stared at the lifeless spider float in the water. He had no idea how spiders end their lives, but this one looked very strange. Srinivasan picked up the spider from the water, went to the plants, dug into the mud and buried it. He poured the water into every plant reciting the mantra praying this time, not for himself but for the spider that had shown him that there is a mind in every creature, big and small and that the path to salvation opens up in strange ways.


A moment with Lord Shiva within

A moment of stillness
All time stops,
the world freezes
I take a single breath
A fresh breath of life
As I look around me
People lost in their worlds
Of suffering, expectation and misery
Walk aimlessly through their lives

It’s a pause in time
A moment of awakening
When all else just sleeps
An enveloping calm
A cocoon of peace
As I walk through this forest of people
Careful not to disturb

To each his own
Clinging to anything
Familiar worlds
An escape from all fears
Of darkness, of loneliness, of lull
A fear so thick
Like a blanket it clouds
Their sense of reason to live free

An aimless life
Of meticulous effort
An endless desire to please
All those around
To suffer the pain of bondage
Seeking all around
A sense of approval
A sense of acceptance
Of their pathetic selves.

Oh wake up fair people
The world is a great place to be
If love be thy first mantra to see
To show all around
Nothing changes but the self
The world at large fails to see
The truth in these words
The silent path to peace

This moment of pause
My silent world beyond
all the madness around me
A world free from all
A world where the Gods reside
The heavens thrown open
The celestial dancers perform
A hall of glory and knowledge
A hall within me

A hall so bright with knowledge
A land so pure with the truth
A complete life of immortality
A complete world of potency
Where every moment is
A shining pearl of experience.

Life in my body,
fresh air in my breath
A shine to my skin
A twinkle in my eye
An ever-lasting smile
Sweetness grows in my heart
As nectar of love flows forth
Cleansing away all my misery

A body so pure, a mind so clean
A heart so free, for every one to see
Words in poetic motion flow
Give rhythm to my feet
The lord dances in
A world of pure energy
Such is the beauty within
Is it so tough to see?

A single moment of pause
A whole new world revealed
A moment of experience
To know and to believe.
While the darkness sets in
The light shines within me
Where all roads end
I am the path to Myself
Where all misery halts
I am the freedom within

The lord shines within me
The Lord speaks to me
The Lord dances in my heart
The Lord lives for all to see
That silent potency I finally touched
So unknowingly so carelessly
I feel so light and warm
I feel I have set myself free.

Photograph: Ekamukhalinga, Nepal.


A magical dance with Chidambaram Nataraja

The temple courtyard
my floor
The pillared halls
echo the rhythm
The calling, a beat
the mridangam
resounding into the air
The grand theater of Chidambaram
My dancing hall in gold.

The nature of dance
pure emotion
The art of Bharata
The expression in abhinaya
A language unknown
yet felt within
The lord awaits in silence
All i see are the birds
The sky, nothingness
pure space
Chidambaram Nataraja

I know no dance
no such expression
yet the body moves
in every action
every thought
every mudra
a natural so unborn
that i do not know
what is right from wrong
I just flow

The world around
appreciates the aesthetics
A high form of expression
felt but not understood
touched but not analysed
witnessed but not experienced
A natural am I
that even i do not know

The performer I am
in the dance of life
overflowing from within
unknown to myself
for I do not see
that which I emote
I just perform
the dance of life!

A call to the Lord
to dance with me
the twist in the hand
the wish fulfilled
He descends to the floor
for me to see
in silent space
the air moves
the vigor around
the dust shaken
the leaves fly
the flames dance
the mridangam in rhythm
gives the beat
the sound reverberates
the Lord touches the floor
the earth shakes

Together we move
Together the expression
Together the power of dance
Together the emotion
Together the abhinaya
Complete mano laya
Complete conciusness
The world stops
the air freezes
time halts
nothing moves
just two forms
displaying the beauty
of life within.

The meaning of Chidambaram

Chi- refers to the purifying of the consciousness,
dam – the rhythm of the Bharata Shastra, the basis of which is given by Patanjali here at this sthala
ba – the lifting of the leg in the rhythm of Tandava Nataraja in all 8 directions of the Ashtadikapalas,
ram – the Na Ma Shi Va Ya Panchakshara mantra as taught by Lord Shiva to the Sanahadimunivargal, the desciples of Dakshinamurthy Shiva.


The killing of Mahishasura on Vijayadasami.

We are all aware of the Great War where the demon King of Mahisha, Mahishasura was slain by the Goddess Durga. These days of war had a lot more going into it than just one complete slash of the buffalo demon’s head.
It is interesting to notice that two aspects of the female energy are worshipped during this time of 9 days. On one end its the fiercest form of the Goddess coming forth to slay one of the worst enemies of mankind and devas while on the other end she is worshipped as a coy little girl, yet to be married.

But lets get to the story of Mahishasura first. Kambasuran who later got the title of Mahishasura ruled the kingdom of Mahisha. After having performed tapasya, he asked Brahma for a boon which was granted. This rendered him almost immortal for no man could kill him. He would die only in the hands of a woman, one who had equal power as him. With this confidence, he plundered the common people off their wealth and disturbed the rhishis when they did their puja and constantly troubled the devas. This was done with the help of his sons Sumbhan and Nisumbhan and his brother Durgamanasura.

The first to die in the Great War is Durgamanasura who is slain by the Goddess on the first day of the war, in the form of Mahalakshmi. Durga takes on the forms of Nava Durga during the next 8 days to slay the buffalo demon.
During this time she takes the form of:

Vana durga (The goddess of the forests),
Chulighai Durga (Consort of Tripurantaka Shiva),
Jatavetaka Durga(she calms the fiery side(ughra) of Murugan when he was just born),
Jwala durga (she defeats another asura called Pandasura),
Shanti Durga (she calms Shiva when he is insulted by Daksha who performs the yajna without inviting him)
Sabari Durga (she advices Arjuna to surrender to Lord Shiva the hunter, in the story of Kiratarjuniya, and finally wins him the Pashupatastra in the Mahabharata)
Deepa Durga (she signifies the flame that is worshipped by all yogis when their kundalini fails to rise)
Asuri Durga (she brings out the Amrit from the churning ocean and gives it to Vishnu in the form of Mohini.)
Lavana Durga (She helps Rama get the astra that will kill Lavana, a general in the army of Ravana. The astra is an arrow with has a trishul at the end of it.)

During the time of Navaratri, Durga is worshipped to kill all evil, Lakshmi gives wealth to all the poor people Mahishasura had plundered and Saraswati gives knowledge to all so that they can start their lives again. The Goddess fought the battle during the day and went into tapasya during the night. Its during this time she receives the Shankha and chakra from Vishnu, the trishul from Shiva, The Vel(spear) from Murugan, and the sword and arrow from Chamunda. Its finally of Vijaya Dasami day that Durga finally slays Mahishasura and his two sons and vanquishes the asura army.

Markhandeya Rishi adds more to the 9 days of Navaratri. He directs women to worship the Goddess in various forms each day.

On day 1: as a 2-year-old child the Goddess is worshipped in the form of Kumari.
On day 2: as a 3-year-old child the Goddess is worshipped in the form of Thrimurti.
On day 3: as a 4-year-old child the Goddess is worshipped in the form of Kalyani.
On day 4: as a 5-year-old child the Goddess is worshipped in the form of Rohini.
On day 5: as a 6-year-old child the Goddess is worshipped in the form of Kaligha.
On day 6: as a 7-year-old child the Goddess is worshipped in the form of Chandika.
On day 7: as a 8-year-old child the Goddess is worshipped in the form of Sambhavi.
On day 8: as a 9-year-old child the Goddess is worshipped in the form of Durga devi.
On day 9: as a 10-year-old child the Goddess is worshipped in the form of Subhadra.

This is called Kanya Puja, which ensures that young girls will get married into good families. With this we come to the end of Navaratri celebrations.


Shakti worship during Navaratri

Navaratri is attributed to 9 days when Shakti is worshipped in all her forms. The three primary forms of Shakti worshipped are Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi. Durga renders courage while Saraswati gives knowledge and education and Lakshmi brings home wealth and prosperity.

During the first three days, three forms of Durga are worshipped respectively. They are Maheshwari, Gaumaari, and Varahi who are Durga swarupinis. On the next three days Lakshmi Swarupinis are worshipped and they are Mahalakshmi, Vaishnavi and Indrani respectively. On the last three days three forms of Saraswati are worshipped and they are Brahmi, Narasimhi and Chamundi respectively.

The origin of Navaratri came about when Adi Shankaracharya gave Upadesham to the people at two primary locations during the installation of the Sri Chakra. He delivered his Upadesham at Srisailam(Andhra Pradesh) and Koolurmugambika(Karnataka). He directed the women folk to worship the Goddess and seek her blessings for wealth, prosperity and long life for their husbands and overall hapiness in the family.

Shakti is worshipped through puja, music, rangolis as well as through daanam all of which are done at the same time.

Shakti worship in Puja:

Navaratri is the time when the great Rishis performed puja through the medium of fire. This is known as Sri Mangala Chandi Maha Chandi Homam(Havan). Markandeya Rishi gives references of 108 forms of Shakti from the Devi Bhagavata in 700 mantras
spread across 13 chapters. During the worship through fire, banyan sticks and ghee offerings are made along with the offering of a saree into the flames of the yagna. Mantras sung during this Homam offer worship to SriMahakali, SriMahalakshmi,
SriShankari, SriJayadurga, SriMahasaraswati, SriPadmavati, SriRajamathangi, SriBhavani, SriAarthaambika, SriKameshwari, SriBhuvaneshwari, SriAgnidurga and SriShivadharika Parameshwari who is another form of Ardhanaarishwara. During the worship, the Goddess reveals each of these forms during the time of Navaratri.

While Rishis perform through the medium of fire, women at home perform the same puja through the medium of water. Water, considered as the essence of the Goddess Herself is taken in a brass Kalasham(pot) on which sandalwood paste is applied. Turmeric powder and Kumkum are smeared on the sides of the Kalasham. The mouth of the pot is covered with mango leaves held in place by a coconut. The Kalasham is covered with a red cloth and this whole arrangement is placed over raw rice.

The arrangement of dolls on steps follows this where all the Gods and Devas are arranged at home. This is called Gollu puja in the south of India.
The significance of keeping Gollu at home is to teach the yourger generation of children the tradition of worship of the Goddess through a medium best understood by them. Oil lamps are lit for all the Gods and this ensures that the oncoming
generations of the family do not move away from the spiritual path or tradition.

Shakti worship in music:

Carnatic music makes references to the 108 forms of the Goddess through songs composed in her praise. These songs are sung during this period in 9 ragas namely Todi, Kalyani, Kambodi, Bhairavi, Banduvarali, Neelambari, Bhilahari, Punnahavarali and Vasanta Ragas.

Shakti worship through rangoli:

9 types of rangoli are made at home for each day.
Day 1: Rangoli is made with dots
Day 2: Rangoli is made with squares
Day 3: Rangoli is made with flowers (lotus, rose etc)
Day 4: Rangoli is made with steps (like gollu puja)
Day 5: Rangoli is made with birds
Day 6: Rangoli is made with one of the names of Shakti
Day 7: Rangoli is made with Vittarani (designs from the palm of the Goddess's hands, like shanka, flowers etc)
Day 8: Rangoli patterns with the trishul (trident) she holds in her hand
Day 9: Rangoli is made with Hridaya Kamalam (Lotus of her heart)

Shakti worship through daanam:

Married women( sumangalis) are invited home during this period and offerings of gingerli oil, turmeric powder, kumkum, rose water, sandalwood powder, cosmetics oils, nalangu manjal (a red paste made of kumkum and turmeric and applied to the hands and feet), ground mehandi and flowers are made.

This completes the worship of Shakti during the 9 auspitious days of Navaratri.


Bija mantras and life's experiences

"Mere kismat mein likha hai" or "My talai ezhutu"

It is an expression in Hindi as well as in Tamil, which reflects those moments of suffering in our lives when we blame "that which fate has written for us and therefore we have to suffer it."

Its a simple line that is very expressive, but we seem to have lost the origins of how this phrase even came about. The literal translation of this term is "that which is written within my head" is not entirely figurative.

It is believed that like the Gods, we as mortal human beings are assigned "Bija mantras" or seed mantras, which are single syllable words that define our entire personality and the lives we lead (Eg: The bija mantra for the Mother Goddess Bhuvaneshwari is Hrim). This makes the Bija mantra the fundamental expression of all that exists at all levels, be it Gods humans or demi Gods.

Brahma, the Lord of creation before we take on the next birth, decides this potent little word written in Grantham. This appears as an inscription engraved within the head, at the zone of the Sahasraha chakra, and it stays with us thereafter its character changing subsequently with every karma we do, good or bad. It enhances its potency with every additional step we take in the direction of spiritualism be it in the form of puja or bhajan sung with bhakti (devotion). This is probably why they say "be good, do good".

This Bija mantra is an outcome of our past karmas and punyams (good deeds) in our previous births. This Bija mantra decides whether we are subjected to rebirth, and the treatment we will receive at Yamaloka and the next birth characteristics decided at Brahmaloka. So life doesn't seem to end on this planet or in this life alone.

This bija mantra has a character that changes with our nature as we mature as individuals. This can be altered if we perform Parigarams (special pujas) at few select temples to render us better living at least for this life. The parigaram needs to be performed to Lord Kalabhairava, a form of Shiva, who is the lord of time controlling all the planets, and is the deciding factor of our horoscope. Apart from Him chandikeshwara who gives spiritual knowledge and uplifts us should also be worshipped.

The potency of Chandikeshwara is defined in the following temples, which are designed specifically for this purpose. For this, one needs to visit an old Shiva temple at one of these places; Thiruvaiyaru, Srivanjiyam, or at the village of Sembian Mahadevi called Anthakudi, near Nagapattinam. The temple at Anthakudi is the most potent of them all.

What is it about the Shiva temple at Anthakudi that makes it so important? It is believed that the area between the Mother Goddess shrine and that of Chandikeshwara in this temple is very potent and still holds very strong vibrations. Hence the value of the worship is enhanced here and the result thereafter is far more fruitful.

And how do we get there? Finding the way to this temple is not half as simple. It requires enough devotion and vigor to want to locate this temple and perform the parigaram there. So finding these temples is our "talai ezhutu"!


A reflection on Lord Shiva

A gesture simple
A face so divine
A form so glorious
A world so new
A hand so firm
A blessing so true
Fear not, The Lord is here
Oh Lord I surrender to Abhaya

A smile enrapturing
Eyes so powerful
A face so handsome
Yet a step so sure
You kill my ego
You kill my ignorance
You reveal the truth
O Lord, crush Apasmara

Hair so wild,
a knot so tight
These wavy locks
Bind the river Goddess herself
A gentle nudge with her feet
Loose they fly,
Releasing her to freedom
She flows down to earth
O Lord, Gangadhara

A chill in the night
Calmness to thy fiery self
Eyes closed in peace
Eyes closed in dhyanam
Just revealed
By a tossing moon
Crescent light glows forth
O Lord, Chandrashekara

A dance so wild
The beat in my heart
The rhythm of the universe
At your feet
Pulsating in every breath
To thy steps, I reveal
My self completely
O Tandava Nataraja, pure beauty within.


The unknown side of Hinduism

Hinduism is a whirlpool of knowledge, that which cannot be understood at first glance. To be a Hindu is not just about being gifted, but it’s an experience we need to live out in accordance with the Shastras.

Walking through a temple might be an overwhelming experience, where we would believe the superior powers are embedded within the deity. Sure enough, but how did this power get there? How did the idol get a life and how are we sharing this power? Or rather...what is this power that we define as "the ultimate truth"?

The power of the stone is not generate within the stone itself but is generated through the mystical diagram that defines the nature of the deity enclosed within the shrine. Various "bija mantras" attributed to the deity are embedded within this mystical diagram. For now this is just a copper/gold plate that carries the lines that define the true nature of the deity.

The real play starts at the dwajastambha, the main pillar in front of the temple. The fire of life is ignited along a darbha grass rope that connects the main dwajastambha to the shrine within the sanctum. The dwajastambha itself is a complex flag post, which contains designs all of which are attributed of the enclosed deity. Fire and ghee ignite the life of the mystical diagram placed within the sanctum followed by a series of hymns that are sung rhythmically along the cardinal directions within the shrine chamber. The mystical diagram comes alive when the fire with the burning ghee falls on its metal surface.

After this ritual the deity is placed over the metal plate and sealed to the floor using a mixture known as "ashtabandhanam". The idol, made of a specific black stone is the carrier of this energy. This energy is maintained and enhanced by constant worship. Worship includes the bathing of the idol with water, milk, sandal wood, fruit mix, honey, oil, ghee and the like. Food is offered in the form of incense, flowers, fruit and rice to the deity.

The inner power of the idol is maintained by constant "pradakshinam" or circumambulation around the main shrine chamber and various prakaras. Only oil lamps should light the interior chamber and electricity is strictly prohibited. Flower garlands should be strung with banana fiber and not thread. Every thing that is offered to the deity is in its purest form. Hence the power of the deity is maintained.

What is the real nature of this "power"?
The nature of this power is strangely electrical, meaning it can produce anything from a mild shock near your elbow to making you shiver if you cannot cope with it.
The point is, we need to be ready to receive this power and for that the body and mind need to be prepared. Hence the various philosophies of detachment and zero desire so that we can concentrate on the Self instead of getting distracted by the world around us.

I know I made this sound really simple but this is belief as it stands today and no, Western science cannot prove this in a hurry.


A night with Nava Shakti - Chamunda.

She woke up in cold sweat,
What was that?
All she remembered were those eyes.
A man moved around,
A lightning in the dark, two eyes so powerful
Swept the air as they danced to his beat.
He resounded again...

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

She stood, silent looking at the sea,
The waves advancing with force washing her feet,
Giving additional rhythm to the drumbeat.
The moon swayed in the night sky,
Tossing among silent clouds
As the wind whistled on.
The mridangam beat reverberated in her mind...

She raised her feet, looked up to the air and called to the Goddess Chamunda.

Oh Mother
Help me perform the very dance,
The dance of fury
The dance of lightning
Those very steps that you walk...

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

The feet raised, the body moves
The muscles wake up
To the calls of the night
The cat moves in stealth
Chamunda descends

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

The dimly lit cloudy stage
The wet floor with waves
The slow beat in the waters
A trident gold the goddess awakes
The spirit invoked

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

The muscles like a panther move
The feet agile, the body smooth
The steps sure, the earth resounds
Sending ripples through the wind
The fury within pours forth

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

Together the beat, together the step
They yield the trident of death
The eyes glow, the limbs move
The grace within unfolds
The bodies arch back, and then attack

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

A red glow in pure white skin
The Goddess shimmers in gold
A deadly trident circles around
Her deft hands behold
The power within

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

The flames light up, the gods descend
The sea recedes and comes forth again
The clouds move, the moon reveals
The bright eyed goddess moves
Crossing the man in rhythmic outburst

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

Their backs meet, their feet retreat
The tridents move like lightening
Circles of light that never meet
As they unite and depart
The energy within overflows

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

The tiger moves, in similar step
As she takes her feet through the air
Her grace her light her charm revealed
She moves in fury
Her feet sink in the sand beneath

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

Such force, the tremors felt
The heart pound the heat rises
Her skin glows, her dress in red
Sways to the wind as she flows
The trident now her halo holds

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

The gods witness the performer go
The man gives the beat to her feet
Her moves so easy her mind so calm
That sways with such delicacy
Through the shaken air

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

Such grace unknown, such power not felt
That brings the great gods to earth
Lord Shiva beholds her silent steps
The shastras of bharata unfold
The dance of fury, the dance of vigor

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

The moon hides, the sea calm
The man bring down the rhythm
The dance concludes the body weakens
Chamunda withdraws from the being
A miracle engulfed into the silence again.

damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum |
damadamadama | damadamadama | damadamadum ||

Photo courtesy: Glossary of Indian Art | Shunya.net


Expression in Abhinaya, the art of Bharata.

Kanchipuram, 1 hour from Chennai:

This is a brimming temple town, which hosts temples to all the Gods. This was the first time I had entered Kamakshi Amman temple. A small temple with at the most two prakaras, Kamakshi Amman temple is one of the more popular temples in Kanchipuram.

Its a lovely town, where every street has a shrine attributed to the Gods. The Pallavas were meticulous about building temples, making sure that Amman, Shiva and Vishnu got temples exclusively associated with them.

I walked in slowly observing the changes that had come about to the Amman temple. Old granite rocks had given way to modern glossy granite finish; stark rock had given way to color at places. Oil lamps had given way to tube lights that lit the interiors, the silence had given way to strong fans and voices of devotees, the pillared halls had given way to meandering queues separated by metal rods, and the Goddess's divine blessings had given way to "Archana" tickets.

Every thing had changed, from what had once been Pallava except the inner most sanctum and the ardhamandapa that preceded it. These chambers alone were dark, silent and carried a red hue of kumkum along the walls and floor. The ardhamandapa carried the priced Sri Chakra engraved in gold and installed within an octagonal pitha in front of the Goddess while another Sri Chakra lay beneath her feet, unknown to the world.

The Sri chakra was installed here by Adi Shankara to calm down the ughra swarupa of the Amman, that which resembles the Kali swarupa by day. Amman, a silent potent form, who resides within these walls, has the moon dancing on her mukuta giving a very tantrik feel to the chamber. The fire of the oil lamp blazed large flames that lit her ever-shining face, the chandan glowing in every flicker of the flame that seemed to dance in her praise.

It cast a spell, a silent spell that brought to life the very dance form of Bharata. The glowing light of the oil lamps brings alive a form of Amman draped in a madisaar covered with flowers in cosmic conversation with her only devotee who performs silhouetted in an ambience of Divine love.

The language of Bharatnatyam, the emotions in abhinaya, the speech in his very eyes as they dance along reflecting every human emotion that melts one's heart to the Divine Mother.

Around the pitha he places his feet, agile and light to the thundering beats of the mridangam, a slender form merges with the Goddess every move waking the mind to a lesson unknown, to a world unknown, to energy potent as he touches Amman, and casts a spell around.

The world falls at her feet, the drums resound, the power of the Sri Chakra is brought to life from within the Pitha, and Amman changes her form from Ughra to calm and resides within her home, the Mother touches my heart as the silhouetted form dances in vigour and the "chalangai" drive the beat down my spine. Tiny droplets of water wake the cells, the heat rises, a dialog in bharatnatyam wakes the air around to a silent world unknown thundering into the rhythm of the ancient drummers realm. The form sways, the fingers blooming into various mudra, a silent word spoken as the back arches to perform a rhythmic expression of complete devotion.

An ancient world brought to life, giving a wake up call, there is more to the aesthetics of living... its perfection within the chamber of Kamakshi Amman.


The mark of a brahmin woman

It was a silent evening at home while I watched my mother prepare for Varalakshmi Nombu. The priced wooden temple came out of its bag and I proceeded with the yearly ritual of assembling the parts together. My fascination for temples made me look at this small mandapam in wood wondering whether I would be able to carve something similar.

An ancient bag, almost belonging to the previous century came back home from the bank with all silver items in it. Part of the booty was a silver pot, kuthi vallaku(lamps) and of course Amman herself wrapped in a red cloth which was her dress for the puja. Amman, wore necklaces made of semi precious stones, an elaborate nose ring, beautiful earrings that gave life to her bright eyes.

The following morning, Amma was draped in her madi saree (9 yard saree) reciting mantra and meticulously doing the puja. I watched Amma in her madi saree, a fairly complex outfit with innumerably tucks and twists to finally give the most gorgeous outlook to a brahmin woman - the virtues of Amman herself.

Amma was complete, with metti(toe rings) in her toes and golusu (anklets) to go with it in silver. They say these jewelery keep away all evil spirits and black magic, while she is free to tread on any ground, her purity being her only guard.

The madi saree itself is considered to be most pure as the yarn does not involve the killing of silk worms or pesticides as in the case of cotton. The yarn being pure and not bringing any "dosham" (sin) onto itself is considered the purest outfit a brahmin woman can wear. Hence worship of Amman is best done in a madi saree for it increases the spiritual power of the woman when she worships God.

Amma wore her bangles, a combination of emerald and rubies embedded in gold. She wore her six petaled "vairu thodu"(diamond earrings) embedded in gold and of course her nose ring. Gold is a significant metal worn on the human body, it has a power of its own. Being worn in the arms, ears and nose enhance the internal spiritual power of the brahmin woman. Puncturing of the nostrils allows the impurities in the inhaled breath to exit through the hole therefore allowing pure air to enter into the lungs. Puncturing of the ear lobes help similarly in health. Hence problems like sinus and headaches are minimized.

Amma never uses the hair dryer. She says our hair gets spoiled and it brings in side effects on the face. Most traditional brahmin women have long hair to comb, hence water should not remain on the head. Hair should be dried naturally ensuring there is no water accumulation. This reduces tension headaches and sinus. Amma always dries her hair by brushing it vigorously creating water sprays all around her with our most famous "thundu" - the brahmin absorbent white towel, completely functional but fairly lousy to look at after a while!!

Then of course the most fabulous mark of a brahmin woman is the big red bindi Amma wears on her forehead. With vibhuti smeared above it, it completes the picture. Amma looks like Amman just descended into the house, simply perfect. With jasmine flowers locked into her hair, the red madi saree brightens up the whole house as Amma runs into rhythm with her mantras to Amman. I feel so small when I look at Amma perform, still wishing every time I would get a chance to do the same puja with just as much devotion as she does it with.

Truly a divine form, with her feet richly colored with turmeric, subtly enhanced by the silver metti and anklets contrasting with the red madi saree with a thick gold border, she simply looks great! I sat back in my "paavaadai" wishing some day I would enter the divine category of brahmin women, a form of Amman relived.


Dip in the sacred river.

Haridwar: Along the Ganges

Going back to the north after about 10 years was indeed very nostalgic as I walked out of Delhi airport to take a car to Haridwar. I had heard a lot about this place and it seemed to be my year for cleansing! If Rameshwaram was not enough, I found myself looking forward to a dip in the Ganges as well.

Ah! The Ganges, I had read so much about it in the books, the great River Goddess, the Goddess who washes off our sins, the river that takes a millions souls to heaven. The river that is now polluted, the river that purifies the soul, the Ganges. I wondered about the Ganges as I sat in the car and headed towards Haridwar. The land of the Kumbh Mela, the land where a thousand Rishis have come to sing countless praises of this mighty river. It felt strange as I thought of Shiva Gangadhara, as Ganges stayed locked into his knotted hair till she was finally set free to flow down to Bhuloka and wash away the sins of Bhagiratha's ancestors by flowing over their ashes and releasing them to heaven.

It was clearly the reason why we continue to burn bodies along its ghats... A hope we reach heaven and not come back in rebirth to suffer another life. Thoughts went by furiously about how mythology has shaped our lives, about how Rishis left stories behind for us to follow a way of life and about how we try so hard now to recollect all this and give up saying we dont need it in this age anymore. I looked out of the window to see the car zipping through greenery, with mad highway traffic almost killing people on the road.

And then the excitement mounted, I was reaching Haridwar, a land I had once visited, of which I knew nothing now but looked out expectantly from the car hoping to catch a glimpse of the Ganges. My heart started to pound, the excitement rising ever so high to see one of the most celebrated rivers in the Indian mind. Ganges appears every where. In ritual Ganges is worshipped first while bathing with the words "Aham Gangai Namaskaromi". Ganga devi is worshipped during ritual with certain hymns attributed to her. Ganges appears as a Goddess on the carved brackets of pillars at temple entrances as well as on cave temples across the country. Ganges stays locked in Shiva's Jatamukuta in ancient sculptures of Shiva Gangadhara and Ganges water is the purest in temple ritual.

The power of Ganges was just fictitious till now until I entered Haridwar to take a dip in this Great river. The first sight of Ganges sent goose pimples through my skin. She spoke pure volume and power. The ghats at Haridwar seemed to be built to just direct her carefully but not enough to try stopping her.

As I descended into the river down the Ghat steps, the chilling waters of the Ganges just ate into my marrow. Oh God this was not simple and I was there for a "Darpanam" in the Ganges and it suddenly appeared tougher than I thought. The steps are steep, and the iron rods are too far away to reach. My knees and feet had to brave it, the current was a little too strong.

Six steps down and shivering in the water with the temples of Haridwar towering above at the other end of this vast river was an experience in itself. I felt small, weak and shivered as I held onto my dear self and prayed to the Goddess to not get any stronger on my knees.

While I said my prayers I admired her. Ganges has character, she is wild and furious and reveals the same power that Bhagiratha had prayed to Lord shiva to help control. They say she would have destroyed Bhuloka and washed away this world... I would believe that. She had the power to do anything as I watched her flow by so fast. She was not going to stop.

She is mind blowing and daring at the same time, challenging anyone to enter her waters. She is beautiful and defines the power of a Goddess in a single force. She is well respected and speaks a world so different from what we live in. A world so pure, so full of faith, so close to my heart and yet so far away. I am speechless when it comes to describing the Ganges. She is an experience, blessed are those who step into her waters for her waters just cleansed the mind and soul.

Ganges is truly a Goddess well worth worshipping. Simply Divine.

"Aham Gangai Matha Namaskaromi"


High spirits and mind power.

Do spirits exist? Is there a world out there we are unaware of because we just don't want to know it?

There was an incident recently in some one's house where there seemed to be a spirit hovering around the house, though interestingly not disturbing the inmates. A few learned men came by and refused to enter the house because they insisted there were spirits inside.

The saga ended pretty fast when one of the learned men came over and decided to "capture" the spirit and send it packing.

It was an interesting story and hard to believe but when it happens so close to home, you are really left with little choice to go against this reality.

Spirits are typically the souls of those people who die earlier than the expected date. Hence someone who commits suicide typically ends up as a spirit and hangs around till the actual time of death when they move further up the heavenly chain namely Yamaloka where Chitragupta brings out their deeds during their life times and decides their fate at Yamaloka - so try to be good.

Subsequently they are taken to Devaloka where they shall continue performing puja and go through penance to reach Lord Shiva and Vishnu and hope for the day they will head to Vaikuntam or Kailasa. While this is not so easy in Kaliyuga, lets see what happens to spirits.

Good and bad spirits have always dominated our imagination. Well is it imagination? Its more fact than imagination. Spirits if left alone hang around on Neem or tamarind trees. Else they are found near water bodies like lakes and rivers and the sea coast. They love darkness and cannot handle light. They love water but cannot handle fire. Hence the superstition - Do not go out in the night near any water body.

What would they do? Spirits tend to come and settle on you, when you venture out in these places by night. When a spirit rests on you, you don't get to see it, but feel as if a whole ten ton stone has been placed on you. It affects you physically and psychologically. Spirits who come can go just as fast. Hence the truth in the story of Vikram and Vetal.

Spirits react to smell or odour. They love the smell of jasmine and roses, the smell of food and incense. This is the reason for the superstition - women shouldn't go to bed with flowers in their head because it attracts spirits.

Spirits are attracted to various odours, so should some real smart guy want to hypnotise a spirits, its through smell. The attraction levels towards smell is so high that a spirit can succumb to any task assigned once they are intoxicated by the odour. Hence the world of black magic came in.

How do they look? Well spirits have a mind, largely appear translucent and do not have feet. The most beautiful spirits appear with lovely eyes, open hair, and look like a bride who is just five days into her marriage. Spirits are basically good and harmless. They do have a weird sense of humour and are playful. Maybe they would just jump on your back and slap you when you venture out at night! There are situations where you can see them and your friend can just hear them. They have a weird laugh and sound really strange during communication (am not referring to plan chit). Spirits understand languages.

So when do they turn evil? When a bad guy offers blood(chickens) instead of flowers and food to eat. Yes, gory as it may sound, spirits are by nature gentle beings, but its a human who diverts a spirit's mind and makes it do weird/evil things. Spirits can do good things too like predict immediate future and give you hints for something you lost.

Spirits come to homes where regular worship is not done. When spirits enter the house, there is a strong breeze before they come in with shreaks. Spirits can stay endlessly in your house until they are finally made to go away. Once out of the house, spirits wait for instructions from the bad guys who sent them there for around two days before they move on.

Last but not the least, spirits suck out the essence of any food offered. Meaning when you place a cube of sugar and invite a spirit over, it takes out the essence of the sugar cube. Should you attempt tasting the cube later it will be insipid and not sweet as expected. Strange but true!


The Temple, Abode of the Self.

Its a moment of lull again
the heart opens the emotions flow
a strange restlessness that draws me close
to the one and only great abode

One step at a time I walk
the towering gateways rise
guarded by gatekeepers, the imperial look
their assertive stance, the fierce eyes

Stone by stone I cross
rock by rock I touch
the texture so rough, the base so strong
as they hold the roof above.

Dark interiors, thick deep walls
that consume the light, the heat, the sound
leaving you in a silent world
of mystery, a cosmic conspiracy?

On every stone do damsels dance
on every rock do Gods reside
on every curve a message imprinted
the ignorant fool stares on

A thought in the mind
does all this make sense
such wealth, effort and energy spent
to walk you through a silent spell?

Or is it a deeper truth they hide
and show only those who care to seek
such knowledge beneath my feet
as I walk on unknowingly.

And then I see a million lights
lit up under the moonless night
the warmth, the fire, the smoke rise
into the air to cloud my sight

I wonder what really brought me here
is it devotion or is it fear
or is it a thirst for peace i seek
or another task unclear?

I watch the priest bathe the stone
with water, milk and sandal wood alone
in reverence he raises the fire to reveal
the presence of a Goddess Divine.

Strange patterns down on the ground beneath
hidden gracefully under Her lotus feet
the heat rises, the prayers resound
as I watch on anxiously

My memory fades, in my ears a tear
my mind hounded by fear
is it wealth, fame and glory I value
or is it silent peace and tranquility my dear?

My ego pierced, my thoughts at war,
whom do i please who do I cross
my thoughts so fast, my ego so strong
Oh Mother where do I belong.

And as the sounds of the bells thunder
it dawns on me a moment here
what comes and goes are the people, the time
the Goddess Divine stays forever near

Isn't that what I look for
as I live on tirelessly
trying to know what life means to me
waiting for that moment to set me free.

A strange peace engulfs me
as I stare up at this great abode
its timeless, precious knowledge at hand
the truth prevails beyond life itself.

And as I walk step by step away
this great abode I leave behind
A realization sublime in my mind
Like many others in the years to come.


Shiva Veenadhara, the Great Musician.

Waking up to the sweet notes of the veena pouring into my ears is a very peaceful experience in a strange way, an experience so rare that its exotic. I was having a peaceful afternoon nap, escaping the burning afternoon sun outside, a fairly deep sleep which gave way to a silent consciousness that woke the mind, the senses, my being and gently brought me back to reality. And on the way I wonder, if I were to wake up to such sweet notes I really wouldn't have nothing to lose.

Sweet notes of tunes that ease the senses, that make all problems disappear and that which elevate the aesthetics of the notes in the mind. I envied emperor Akbar, for his life every day was a sweet journey laiden with notes that were strung together by Tansen. Classical notes with subtle nuanses that he didnt just appreciate but felt exaltation in the soul with it. Such peace that the mind rests even when awake. Akbar slept and woke up with the tunes played by Tansen, what a luxury, sweet notes that raise the senses, warm your blood, bring life to your muscles while you rise back to consciousness.

As I watched my cousin rhythmically pull at the strings to produce these tunes that flowed through the house she followed it with the physics of playing the instrument. This brought in the thought of Shiva Veenadhara, a form so graceful and gentle that it reveals in complete form the very exponent of performing arts. The great teacher, the Lord of all music, the notes just flow as he plays with his gentle fingers, the cosmic tunes of existance and life, that which reverberates in every being, universal music that appeals to all!

Shiva veenadhara, the river of music flows forth from Him, the river of consciousness, that could not just wake up the soul but cause it to rain, to shine at the mind's will. Such was the power of Tansen's music, that he brought the rain down to cool his heated body that didn't withstand the very notes he played. Such passion for music, is so hard to find now... its not about skill and performance, its about worship that it takes you to a different realm where every note, every sound is a new world of miracles revealed.
Such was the music then.. purity in its fullest that it milked the very potency within it and let it flow to all those who seek its pleasure.

Music is about reviving the soul, merging into the supreme, its not just about tapping the hands and feet.


Rameshwaram - Temple for a cosmic bath

Temple of faith infinite
Temple of baths unlimited
Temple of a million hopes
Temple of over 4000 pillars
Temple of 22 sacred wells
Temple of the 9 grahas(navagrahas)
Temple of 3 prakarams
Temple of 3 Shiva Lingas
To worship just 1 Lord - Shiva

Rameshwaram: An island off the Tamil Nadu coast

Pamban bridge, is a name so familiar and yet a feeling of fear came in when I remembered what my mother had told me, "Its a low bridge over the sea and scary when you see the lashing waters of the waves in turmoil just dashing against the old bridge as the train moves on swaying with the wind, towards the coast of Rameshwaram."

This is a beautiful sight, to see a vast expanse of water below my feet as I stood at the door feeding my eyes with the early morning sunlight reflecting over its waters. This had to be Pamban and it fitted the description perfectly. The early morning sun colored the blue sky orange and my heart felt light for I had finally made it to Rameshwaram!

Its a small town, smelling of fish everywhere, with no waves for the sea God was cursed by Lord Rama for having destroyed the Navagriha while he worshipped them. Lord Rama had cursed, "there shall be no waves here" and sure enough there are none. A sleepy little town that lives around the temple, where its not too strange to see people walking around dripping wet for its the land that promises you the longest shower, a shower that doesn't clean your body but cleanses your soul!

I started first with well water; being told it was important before I made it to the sea. Soon I descended into the sea, wading through the water to do my prayers there for an hour taking 3 dips in the water before and after my recital of assigned mantras. I walked back towards the temple, to be told my shower has just about begun.

With an old man leading the way holding a bucket and rope in his hand, I walked on, from pillar to wells through a wet labyrinth of halls. I stopped at various points within the temple complex to get a view of the rising sun, having my vision covered with a sheet of silvery water just pouring down my head. A sheet of water, often sweet, often salty and sometimes in between, a sheet of water crystal clear with the sun locked in every drop!

The temple floor has never been dry, with people trooping in for a complete shower. It is an open bath, with pure well water washing away my past karmas. A bath I should not wash away with a regular bath later.

“Yahi hamaaraa samskar hai, we should follow our sampradayam.”

Devipattinam, Mainland India, 1 hour from Rameshwaram:

Having had my cosmic bath, I moved on to Devipattinam, a place so silent and hosting my ticket to a better life. The Navagraha are 9 rocks of various sizes that stand out of seawater occasionally disappearing with the tide. I descended into the water thanking God for the grainy sandy floor, for I really didn’t want to know what else lived among these waters.

"Vettalai paaku, pazham and sarpam" - beetle leaf with bananas and a silver snake, was an offering of fruit I made to the Navagriha, also hoping for assistance to know where Rahu was, and the curious people of Devipattinam are most willing to help with that. These are not temple sculptures; they are large chunks of rock in water, with peculiar shapes expecting you to know them before you show up. Having placed the "sarpa" at Rahu, I circum-ambulated the navagriha in the water, leaving no room for doubt. I stood in the water, looked at the sun and recited my sankalpa:

My salutations to the Navagriha - to Rahu, ketu, Shani, Surya, Chandra, Shukra...and I cant remember the rest - all this in Sanskrit.

My last deed of the day before I caught the afternoon train back to Chennai was to visit Lord Shiva's shrine. I went straight to a beautifully lit up sanctum, with plenty of oil lamps. Deep within is a Shiva linga, mythologically placed there by Sita, originally made out of sand and called Ramalinga or Rameshwara, while Hanuman was sent to Kailasa for a Shiva Linga and didn’t make it in time for the muhurtham. It is a strong Linga, which Hanuman could not uproot, when he was upset that Lord Rama didn’t wait for his return. A potent Linga that would save Lord Rama from any curse, an eventuality of the death of so many people including Ravana in the great war of the Ramayana, a ritual advised by Sage Agastiyar to Rama to be performed, and hence the temple, that hosts it much later in time.

Among the various shrines that Rameshwaram temple hosts are also two other Lingas that were brought by Hanuman and eventually installed and worshipped here as well known as the Visvalinga, for which abhishekam is done well before the main shrine hosting Sita's Linga is worshipped. Rameshwaram relives the events of the Ramayana bringing every aspect of it to life. It’s an endless list of myths and legends starting with a cosmic shower from 22 wells each of which tasted so different.

A disgusted Brahmin priest once said:
Science wale bolte hein ye artisan well hai. Ab hum kya bolein?


The spider and the elephant.

Thiruvanaikkaval, Srirangam: We would love to consider that we are super intelligent beings on this planet. Well let’s hold onto our egos a bit and take a look at this story.

There was once a vast forest that surrounded the interior lands around the Kaveri river in Trichy district. It was a forest rich with Jambu trees under one of which was installed a Shiva Linga. Back in the serene world that surrounded this Linga lived an elephant that used to come and worship the Lord every day. The elephant was an ardent devotee of the Lord.

At the same time there was yet another unassuming devotee who used to worship the Lord with as much devotion. A spider used to live around the shrine and tie a web above it so that the leaves from the Jambu tree would not fall on the Lord himself.
But there was a problem for every time the spider made his web to protect the Lord, the elephant would destroy it thinking it was absolute sacrilege. This resulted in a mounting fight between the spider and the elephant, a massive clash of egos.

Finally the spider decided one day that it would not take this any more. The next day when the elephant came to worship the Lord he as usual decided to destroy the web the spider had spun over the Linga. This time the spider got smarter and entered into the elephant’s trunk and bit him. The following duel killed both the elephant and the spider. This is when Lord Shiva appeared before both of them, and said that they both had pleased him well with their devotion.

The spider in his next birth was born as King Kochchengan who built the current temple at Thiruvanaikkaval, in the island city of Srirangam to worship Lord Shiva. Interestingly, he built the sanctum sanctorum in such a way that no elephant would be able to enter the Gharbha Griha. Hence this is the only temple where the Garbha Griha is built low, has a very small vestibule (Antarala) and an even smaller chamber within which the Lingam resides. The entrance is extremely small such that no elephant can even find its way in. The only way to view the Lord is through a Jali window placed in front of Nandi, through which the Lord can be seen. It is considered very auspicious to be able to view the Lord through the horns of Nandi Bull through the Jali window.

The story of Lord Shiva’s temple at Thiruvanaikkaval does not end here; they say that even if the Kaveri river dries up in peak summer, the water within this shrine chamber never dries. There is water that surrounds this Linga the year round even if there is extreme heat around this area of interior Tamil Nadu. Such is the power of the Lord.
This temple at Thiruvanakkaval is also called Jambukeswara temple as an extension of the Jambu tree under which the Linga was originally installed.

This is about Thiruvanaikkaval, there is more to the spider. Incase tomorrow you decide to clean up the spider webs in your Puja room, think twice before hitting the spiders. Spiders are great devotees of the Lord, and if there is serious devotion in your house, spiders will come and make webs within this section of the house. So next time you decide to clean up, leave the spiders alone!

Photo courtesy: templenet.com