This is #7 in my series on India. If you are new to this series and would like to start at the beginning, just follow the link below.
The Indians possess a curious inclination for the deep reverence of others; their fabled gods, their super rich royal families, the pale-skinned British and bearded, enlightened old men such as the sadhus. One evening this week, our party stopped at a particularly pretty shrine to Shiva and his chattels (his son Ganesh and two of his many wives). It was my first experience of India after dark and it felt like being present at a men only, lantern-lit festival. Dancing Shiva was housed in a stone temple with many candlelit antechambers. Fresh flowers adorned most surfaces and we were made welcome by the pot-bellied holy man in charge of the sacred space. We anointed our brows in three parallel horizontal lines with soft grey chalk and added a red dot to our third eye. In another space, we drank a blessing of tulsi ‘holy’ water and a little cow’s milk.
Before leaving, we walked nine times around a caged shrine dedicated to the nine planets, represented by carved stone dancing ladies wrapped in colourful cloths. I wondered how the ancient Indian world came to know the planets and discerned them from stars without equipment. But India is a country that can trace its historical and religious roots right back to the beginning of recorded history, so astrology was probably a piece of cake. I was indeed in a special place.
After breakfast today, two women accompanied me on a much-needed excursion out of the village and up to the local ashram, Arivu Thirukovil. One of them a yoga enthusiast from country NSW and the other a colourful Chinese woman in an impractical race day hat and silk scarf. Along the yellow pebbled road, we saw a homeless woman; she seemed surreal, straight out of central casting. Raggedy clothes, bad teeth, dirty skin and a child-like look in her eyes. I felt I had walked onto the set of a movie – Les Miserables in India. Careful to stick together in a trio, we were wary of men lurking behind trees enjoying the sight of our white skin. Yesterday our group had had a strong reminder that one should never be truly alone in India, except inside a locked hotel room. One of our party, in need of alone time, sat in a park briefly only to notice a creep behind a tree buffing his banana whilst staring at her. She ran hard.
Our tour guide at the ashram was a gentle, slightly hunched and down-to-earth woman with a squint who was happy to answer our many benighted questions about the bearded, enlightened man who led his followers to spiritual enlightenment here. We set off in a stretch golf buggy to view the lecture space, the Maharishi’s peaceful and sunlit bedroom, his imposing tomb and a photo gallery of happy family snaps and trinkets. Built in the late 1950s, the grounds and white-washed architecture looked to be a blend of western and Indian styles. Grassed, open spaces added to the serenity and monkeys as big as billy goats played not too far from where we stood. My companion was eager to run over and take photos, but I reminded her of the very real risk of rabies. That was one very expensive inoculation I didn’t have before leaving Australia.
The Maharishi died ten years ago at the age of 94 and was a much loved, smiling man. I hope he was a good man too as he clearly had enormous influence. He was revered for his many written works, speaking engagements and divine revelations. His personal effects are now momentos kept behind glass cabinets; his tooth brush, leather sandals, thali and cutlery, and a trophy won for his magnetology work. Large, red passion flowers burst from a vine snaking along a fence near to the Maharishi’s tomb. Inside, a huge, black granite box housed his earthly body and sweet smelling flowers decorated the surface of it. The tomb was surrounded by flat, wide cushions for seated meditation and many attendants reposed there awhile, respectfully quiet. We novices sat along the edge and had a few moments’ silent contemplation as I listened to the breeze pass through the space. I was grateful to have been shown around by such a welcoming guide. I asked her if her guru was a funny, happy man and she indicated that he was indeed. I hope that this was true because he led a seemingly charmed existence with servants and the like to adore and pick up after him. Perhaps he was humble, and was actually a little embarrassed by the life size portraits he sat in front of for lectures and photos.
Sadhu – a holy man in the Hindu religion. The inspiration for many people’s dreadlock dreams.
Shiva – one of three main Hindu gods credited with being in charge of creation and destruction. He is often depicted dancing and with many arms.
Tulsi – a plant in the basil family (ocimum sanctum). Considered ‘holy’, small bushes of it have been grown in Indian people’s homes to deter insects since time immemorial. They are so revered that I saw many had been covered with a little square of red and gold silk.
Maharishi – a great Hindu sage or spiritual leader. Some might say they are cult leaders.
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8. India: Saree
10. India: Blue
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