We peered inside the garbha griha, the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, the womb housing the deity. There, inside the very, very small room, placed eccentrically to one side was a small quadrangular pit, circumscribed by a low stone railing gilded with silver. Inside this pit, barely visible from outside the room, was a small stone obelisk set in gold, and revered by millions of Hindus as the Vishwanath jyotirlingam.
The room smelled of burning incense sticks, and camphour, and flowers, and bilva patra, the leaves of the wood apple tree. Smoke issued out from the small room where priests burned incense, and guggulu, and camphour, and chanted prayers to the primordial ascetic known as Shiva, the Mahadeva, the god of gods.
The priests were dressed only in a waist cloth, the typical north Indian dhoti; their torsos bare, their arms, and forehead smeared with malaya, or the white sandalwood paste. They chanted hymns, they offered the sweets brought by the devotees to the deity, and returned the prasadam to them, they controlled the influx and egress of devotees inside the garbha griha – it was an organised chaos, even like the universe is, and at the centre of it all sat the deity, in stone form. It was same deity who had presided over the creation of the world, the one who watched over it as the stars and the galaxies danced their dance of chaos, and he was the one who will preside over the destruction, the annihilation, the implosion of the stars and the galaxies and the universe as we know it – he was Shankara, Bhairava, Ishana, Avimukteshwara, Vishveshwara, Rudra, Shiva, Mahadeva…..the god of gods…….
Inside this room, this womb of the temple, we peered, said our prayers to the deity, and filed out of the temple. I was still murmuring the Shiva Tandava Stotram, and the Rudraashtaka Stotram, while my daughters listened quietly, following me all the while, holding my hands, waiting for any nuggets of information that I would pass on to them. This had become a habit…..everywhere we went, I tried to tell them about the place’s history, tradition, legends as much as I could. I wanted to ignite that fire within them, the fire that would drive them to find out more…..and then they would dig….dig into this unfathomable ocean called Indian culture, history, legends, scriptures……..and then they would find themselves, and then they would find the truth……for isn’t that our ultimate goal? Finding the truth? Finding ourselves? It’s one and the same – finding yourself, and finding the truth. If you find yourself, you would have found the truth, and if you find truth, you would find yourself standing right there, inside, within the truth……and then the two would cease to exist…..and there would be no ‘you’, no ‘me’, no ‘truth’, no ‘un-truth’, no ‘existence’, no ‘non-existence’……just bliss…….just ‘nirvana’…..the blowing out of the candle…..
To be continued……
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