Thursday, October 21, 2010

Road Trip #2 - - Part Three (Inside the Temple!)

Sorry for the delay - - Amy Suzanne and I just got back from a Deloitte recruiting trip to Bombay (to be honest, the name "Mumbai" has not caught on with everybody!) - - and - we slept the night through.  It's now Thursday afternoon as I write this.  Where were we?  Oh, yes...we were in the anteroom outside of the Shiva Temple Sanctuary...waiting for the ceremony to begin!

Before the temple "band" was to begin...the doors opened to the actual Sanctuary (or, were they curtains?  I forget!)...and inside there were four red-dhoti-clad Shiva Priests.  Standing on either side of the room, they were quickly chanting a litany of sorts - - all in Sanskrit...it was probably something that they have done 1,000's of times...and it was hauntingly beautiful and strange to my Western ears all at the same time.  In just a few short moments...my ears were never to be quite the same again!!

All of a sudden (from my vantage point, it was a strain to see all the way into the inner-sanctum) - some curtains opened and two Priests come out with five-wick ghee lamps and begin the Aarti.  An older Priest (I guarantee this poor old fellow must have lost his hearing several decades back!!) began pulling on a rope...which served two functions.  It was the rope that rang a huge (LOUD!) "church bell" - - and - at the same time was connected to an old Rube Goldberg-like mechanical contraption that also operated two huge drumsticks which pounded out an irregular beat on a GIANT tom-tom drum.  The drummers from the band had removed their skins from their backpacks...and began playing along with the big-drum's back-beat.  A cacophony emanating from the two Indian "bagpipe-chanters-only-twice-the-size" (I'm sure there is a proper name for this instrument...somebody Google it and let me know!!) was at a pitch that could sterilize cats at 150-feet....combined with the bell, the multiple drums, the chanting....the smell of the burning ghee and incense....the sight of the semi-disembodied floating lamps burning before the Jyotirlingam (which, due to my angle, I still could not see...) - - all five of my earthly senses were experiencing complete overload!!  Was I being transported into the Presence of the Divine here?  Or was it all just so loud that I couldn't think??

Just as quickly as it all started...it all quickly and abruptly stopped!!  The curtain remained open...and two dhoti-clad Priests began to kneel next to the Jyotirlingam, and poured water and coconut water and clay onto it.  The ladies who had paid for the special pooja entered the sanctuary and knelt around the lingam and touched it with their hands....some pressed their foreheads to it.  They were dressed in their "Sunday-go-to-meetin'-saris" - - and they were getting wet and dirty at the worship.  Slowly...the line of men I was in crept forward.  What I saw was amazing!!

Most lingams that one sees in India's Shiva Temples are about 3-4' high...and perhaps a foot-or-so in diameter.  This one...a very, very special one, indeed...had been there and had hands upon it with untold millions of gallons of water and honey and clay from the Ganges River poured onto it...it was worn away to the point that it was perhaps 8-10" tall now...carved from black basalt - - I had to chuckle (no offense meant!) - because the Shivalingam is said to be a symbol of Lord Shiva's male power to procreate (yeah...it's a phallic symbol - - don't let any enlightened "scholars" tell you otherwise...it's a stone penis!) - - and the fact that it was worn away to a mere nub of its former glory struck me as amusing.  "Common male problem at such an advanced age - even for the great Lord Shiva!" was my sacrilegious thought!!

Before I knew it, I was being asked to step to the far side of the platform where the lingam was.  Sangamesh and Krishna, being good Hindus (and Sangamesh being a Priest of Lord Shiva himself!) were kneeling and touching the stone...while other Priests were pouring on clay and water, making sort of a thin mud like substance.  Other men were on their knees, chanting words I did not understand....(there was a constant buzz of mantras and whispered prayers!) and pressing their foreheads to the lingam!  They all motioned for me to kneel - - but - this is something I would not do.  You know me...I'm all for interfaith dialog, but I pretty much draw the line at kneeling before the Lord Destroyer's muddy phallus!  I did bend at the waist to touch it, just so I could say I did (I will probably never be back to Srisailam in this lifetime!) - and they wanted me to smear the mud on my forehead as a symbol of devotion.  Again...I motioned that I needed to pass on this one....and wiped the mud on my pants when nobody was looking.

We walked outside into the pure - but hot and muggy - air.  Krishna said to me with a wide grin that he was "very happy" - - because on three occasions he had been to the temple here...but had never gotten to touch the Jyotirlingam.  I was very happy for him!!  Both he and Sangamesh sported foreheads smeared with the mud from the darshan...while I only had the red dot of kumkum tilak placed there by some holy-man when we walked through the gates.  I thought it was sort of like getting your hand stamped at a dance club - - so - there it was - making me look again like I had taken a .38 slug to the forehead!  (See the photo at the beginning of this article...that's me on the left, in case you didn't know!) 

We walked around a little bit, and soon met up with Sangamesh's nephew, the Shiva Pujari, who then gave me permission to snap a few photos and took us all around the temple grounds.  I stopped in the courtyard to hear one of the Priests delivering a lecture (in Telugu or Hindi, I don't know which one - but - strangely enough - I was sort of able to follow it!) - on the joy of pure love and the love between Lord Krishna and his Consort, Radha-Rani.  My guess was it was directed at the girl who was to be married...it was a good time to sit and cool off...and allow my ear-drums to heal from the Aarti ceremony!!  But by now...my poor bare-feet were about to give out!!

We went to all of the temple shrines...and - once stopped to witness a very jubilant procession with the deities of Lord Shiva and Parvati on a flower-decorated cart being pulled by and equally-decked-out real-life replica on Nandi the Bull - - I tried to sneak a video of it - - but - it didn't come out because it was so dark outside.

After the procession passed, I told "the boys" that I needed to start back toward the shoe-station and begin the trek back to the hotel - - or I wasn't going to be able to make it!!  I'm sure they were disappointed and wanted to stay around the temple until "closing time" - but I was done.  We got our shoes and walked through the outer-gate and back toward our "home" for the night....all the while, listening to drumming and chanting and all of the spiritual goings-on from the temple....blaring from loudspeakers all the way back to the hotel!!

To Bee Continued....Final Episode Coming  Soon!!

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