All the Shiva temples across India will have a small furrow like conduit cut out into the floor on one side, which serves to drain out the water or milk or other fluids which are used to wash the ‘lingam’; the ceremony being called ‘abhishek’ or anointing. This conduit runs from the base of the ‘lingam’ to a drain situated outside the room. The Shiva devotee must not cross this culvert etched into the floor of the sanctum and hence, the ‘pradakshina’ or the circumambulation of the deity in the Shiva temples is never 360 degrees. One turns back from the furrow and performs an anti-clockwise circumambulation.
We entered the sanctum with folded hands and started our ‘pradakshina’. I started to murmur the ‘Shiva Tandava Stotram’, the Sanskrit hymn dedicated to Shiva, and written and recited first by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka and a great Shiva devotee. As I murmured the invocation, with my hands folded, and moved around the hall slowly, Shubhi-Meethi followed me. They tried to recite the prayer themselves but faltered at places since they were yet to memorize it completely. The idea that this prayer to Shiva was written by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, and the villain par excellence in Ramayana, the immortal Hindu epic, had always fascinated my children and had drawn them to this particular prayer.
And thus, we murmured our prayers and went around the ‘lingam’ in the Shiva temple, stopping at the culvert where the waters from the ‘abhishekam’ flowed into the conduit. I bent down and touched the waters with my fingers, and then brought them to my forehead. The children followed suit, and then watched me as I approached the small receptacle with some ‘chandan tilak’ or sandalwood paste which has to be smeared on the forehead as a token of Shiva’s benedictions. I dipped my right ring finger into the small pot with the sandal paste and inscribed a small dot with it on the girls’ forehead, between the eyebrows, the location of the mythical ‘third eye’ or the ‘Aagya chakra’ in the human body.
Hindu tantric traditions describe seven ‘Chakras’ or energy nodes which need to be awakened for a yogi, or anyone doing meditation, to achieve the enlightened state. As I smeared the paste on the girls’ forehead, I explained to them how a ‘Shaiva tilak’, the mark on the forehead of Shiva devotees, is a horizontal line while a ‘Vaishanava tilak’ on the forehead of a Vishnu devotee is a vertical line. The girls nodded their heads, as did Neel and Mon and Vedanta and Gauri who stood in a queue behind Shubhi-Meethi, waiting for their turn to receive the ‘tilak’.
I motioned Shubhi-Meethi to stand aside as I continued to put the ‘tilak’ on the foreheads of all the children, and then their parents – Sutanu was there, then Sudipa, Appu came with Swati, then there was Sridhar with his wife and their two daughters Aditi and Kanika, the little one. By the time I had finished applying ‘tilak’ to the forehead of all friends and their children, I noticed that a small queue had formed of the other visitors to the temple, who waited patiently for their ‘tilak’. I obliged them, then a few more – this was getting embarrassing; maybe they thought I was deputed by the temple to do this for everyone.
Presently, I had put the ‘tilak’ on the forehead of nearly everyone who was in the temple at that time, except the ‘purohit’ or the priests themselves, who were smiling at my predicament. We exited the sanctum hurriedly and proceeded towards the first floor, reading verses from the Gita as we climbed the stairs.
Once on the first floor we visited the temples housing the Laxmi-Narayana idol and then the one with the idol of Mother Durga, or Shakti, Shiva’s consort, and the source of all the feminine energy in the world. She is the destroyer of the Asura armies, the slayer of Madhu-Kaitabh, Shumbh-Nishumbh, Rakthbeej and Mahishasura. She is the one the Gods rush to when even they need help. She is unlimited in her love, her affection for her children; she is also unlimited in her anger and her rage and her strength when it comes to protecting her children. She is the embodiment of all that a mother is – she is ‘Maa Durga’, the mother Goddess that the world bows to.
The Laxmi-Narayan temple houses the idols of Narayan or Vishnu, the God of Gods, the creator of this world, one who lies upon the infinite ocean of milk, the ‘Ksheer Saagar’, on the infinite serpent, the Shesha, and creates the world from his mind. Along with him is his consort, Laxmi, or Sri, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity and all that is good in the world. She lies with him on the ‘Shesha’ and together they keep the world together. Narayana is also known as ‘Sridhar’ or one who holds Sri or Lakshmi. He is ‘Meghavarnam’ or dark as the clouds, and ‘Shubhaangam’ or the one with beautiful limbs. He is always worshipped together with his consort and her name is always mentioned before his. The same is also true of the other Gods who are worshipped along with their consorts. Thus, we have ‘Lakshmi-Narayana’, ‘Sita-Ram’, ‘Radha-Krishna’ and ‘Gauri-Shankar’. The tradition to give the prime place to the female deity has a long history in Hinduism.
Some of this I explained to Shubhi-Meethi as we folded our hands and bowed our heads to the deities housed in the temples on the first floor. Obeisances done, we roamed around a little on the massive terrace of the first floor of the temple, clicking pictures and admiring the murals on the walls. Here was ‘samudra-manthan’ or the churning of the oceans, here was ‘Gita-vyakhyana’ or Krishna reciting the Gita to Arjuna, the devotee par-excellence. There were other verses from different Hindu scriptures too and pieces of sermons of different Indian saints. Here was Buddha, here was Kabir, here was Ramkrishna Paramhans. I paused at a few places, reading the verses and then explaining them to the children. As I did so, a small crowd formed around me, all the children huddled close to listen to what I was saying. Some of their parents came too – Swati was there, as was Sudipa and Appu was there and Sutanu. Sri sauntered along, clicking pictures, while his daughters listened to me with rapt attention.
To be continued………………………………….
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