The Mark of Vishnu

The sacred ash on the forehead is something that I have been forced to adorn, ever since I can remember. It wasn’t always pleasant – for the ones who associated with such things were ‘uncool’ and well, I suppose it was a time when I did not want to be left out of the gang. I am not sure if I had questioned the rationale behind the practice, I must have, for such has been my nature. I certainly do not remember having been provided convincing reasoning, yet, I stuck to the rule. I do not know why – sometimes, I feel we are ordained certain things. This is in spite of my having read The Secret, and also having trusted the so called logic in it.

Much later, I grew up to associate with the Lord of ‘constructive destruction’. Legend says He is perpetually in a state of trance, and that He lives in the cremation grounds; a place where He would hardly be troubled by anybody. For this was where He would enjoy the greatest of all music; that of silence. And why would anybody want to trouble someone who lives in the midst of burning corpses?

And thus, the sacred ash became more than just a habit. I would be proud to wear it – for it reminded me of what I consider to be a great truth – the end. I would wear it in the morning, and night, and every time I had a wash or visited a temple. To me, it was a constant reminder of sorts. Interestingly, when I had learnt the symbolism, I had started to develop a liking, and to an extent, even a certain pride in sporting it. Strangely, to me, the very same thing had become ‘cool’. And thankfully by then, I had stopped worrying being ‘cool’ and accepted anyways.

“That is not a smart idea”, he had said.

I looked back to find him stand at the door of the compartment. He sported a clean shaven look, with the mark of Vishnu very neatly done on his broad forehead. I hadn’t had a good look at him yet, but told him that it wasn’t legal to smoke on the train, and so I had chosen so jump out while the train had halted at a signal, to quickly enjoy a couple of drags.

For some reason, I was reminded of this short story that was a part of my English textbook while I was in school. Even though I could identify with the ‘smug scientific minds’ of the youngsters in the story, I had, even then, felt a deep surge of pity for Gunga Ram. And that, for some reason, made me dislike the author then.

“The train will start moving and it is dangerous. You aren’t even on a platform. Get in, and I’ll allow you to smoke from the doorstep”, he retorted. So surprised I was, that by the time I could grasp what he had said and take a good look at him, he was on his way.

It was breezy, and the moving train added to the effect. I stood there for a while, enjoying the force of the wind on my face. It was hard to know if the thoughts whizzing past the mind where any more ferocious in their speed than the wind that was literally piercing my skin.

When I decided to go back to my seat, I found the ticket checker seated, his feet stretched on the vacant seat opposite his own. There was something peaceful about his countenance, and the mark on his forehead only added grace. I walked past, hesitated, and walked back to him. I did not know what to say. I told him my name, stretched out my hand for a shake, and searched for the customary name badge that they wear on the lapel of their coats. When I did spot his name, I smiled, and looked into his eyes. He reciprocated, with the most beatific smile I have seen in recent times, and simply said, “Thank you”, and I know not for what.

I nodded, and quietly walked back, content with having met Mr. Tiruvengadam in a pleasantly surprising encounter.

PS: my apologies for having disappeared all this while. with work the way it is, my guess is that this may continue to be so for a while. i considered shutting down the blog for not having done justice to it, but shot down the idea when i realized that some of you have indeed been lurking around here, and requesting me to write. my gratitude to such of you – it is indeed gratifying to note that we connect to remote souls in different parts of the world, in different ways, through this medium. i shall endeavour to drop by at your own ‘taverns’ when time permits, and also to keep this space alive…


35 thoughts on “The Mark of Vishnu

  1. What a relief to have you back. Don’t even think of shutting this blog down, it’s become somewhat like a cooperative with so many souls involved.. This post makes me review my reservations. I was always uncomfortable with people wearing a U-shaped mark, or a long line with a dot below it, or such things. For me, it symbolized that their beliefs are much stronger than they should be, and hence may easily come in way of a normal life..and then, I never knew the reason behind applying vibhuti or chandan. Here, the explanation seems just. And yes, transforms into being cool if a person can actually remain aware of the end and still be comfortable with it. There are two poems and many articles piled up on the blog that I want you to read. Even if you can’t individually comment, just let me know wht things you read, if you can..I finished On the Road and initially didn’t like it. The post says so. I was put off by Dean Moriarty. I felt a little annoyed at Sal for pulling on with a person who seemed completely directionless. But towards the end, I came around with the wierd characters, accepting them as they were. It was with a sad pinch that I closed the novel shut. I think I will read more of Kerouac, if not for anything else, just for the sullen uncomfort he compels you to experience.

  2. The subconscious mind of the modern Indian realizes that beliefs and traditions have shrouded our questions to unanswered ones. It is a given if one sees the auspicious mark on somebody’s forehead that the person bearing it is of a particular religion and/or caste. But more than religion itself, this mark has meant several things to several people. As a small kid, a “vibhuti” would do wonders to the belief of the child in case an exam was round the corner. It would equally provide solace to uneducated villagers, praying for a good harvest next year, during a customary harvest festival. Vishnu and belief’s associated with the Lord are such that in the hitec city of Hyderabad, lakhs of devotees visit a temple called Chilkur to ask for their wishes to be fulfilled. Call what you may, this belief itself, notwithstanding the “chandan” or “vibhuti” associated with it, remains and will probably so, as it has for years now, to be the remarkable powers of Lord Vishnu.

  3. I’d be sorry if you shut your blog, I’d feel that I’d lost a friendship. I subscibe via a RSS feed, so I will know when you’ve posted, even if it isn’t for a while.

  4. ive been throught that..the initial habit of vibhuti, the resentment, the fact that it was uncool and now acceptance..never imagined putting it in words though!

  5. Oh I used to have problems too, even though for me it was only a dot, the pottu. My parents are proud mark-of-vishnu wearers though. Time passed, and I grew a little wiser. Today I’m proud of it too. Theres more to it than a red line. It tells a story about my heritage and where I come from. I really liked reading this 🙂

  6. don’t u even think of leaving!and do tell me what his name meant. as always, your blog post is a story and this time it is carrying a story in its womb.treasured post, this is 🙂

  7. finally a post:)am glad. I think this is one of your best posts (among the ones i ve read). i am only wondering why we do not teach the young ones ‘why’ they do what they do or atleast make them ‘question’ the same. i have gone through that phase of criticising, feeling embarrassed etc for my forehead with vibhuti, the malli poo and other such things but until later i never even tried to question it. i either accepted or rebelled.but yes, atleast at some point in life some people understand while others still go on grudging and accepting or rebelling.

  8. What a coincidence! Only today, I had a conversation regarding the Mark of Vishnu with a colleague. It is rare to see in my city and hence some friends had brought up the topic. You have a very original style of writing – you switch gears kind of abruptly and leave the reader to interpret what they will at the end. I must learn that; its a good way to keep the readers involved 🙂

  9. A train ride for you must be like an airline flight to me, a place where the most enlightening thoughts and happenings occur. When I traveled a lot, I used to laugh and say to myself it was because I was closer to “God.” So this, as with all your train encounters, gave me something, some knowing, that made me feel at peace. I felt my American self may have missed some key thing in the telling, though, in the name Tiruvengadam, but the Kala Nag story did not go by me, was fully enjoyed. It was a very well told story, and I’m studying writing now, so I could only admire the author’s skill and shake my head at the ending, marveling, “Well, isn’t that just the way of life!”PS: I’ve felt like shutting down my blog many times. Good thing I didn’t, good thing you didn’t. I began to think that it doesn’t have to be a duty. Like writing in a journal, it could just be a place to get out thoughts and stories when the need arises. I love your style of writing—a gracious presenting of point of view, always and ever balanced with an awareness of being a benign, if not objective, observer—and I will take it as it comes, when it comes : )

  10. dude! few of my thoughts as they come popping in…1) great post…long overdue.2) if u contemplate shutting this blog down…there will be a lynching that i will most certainly be a part of!3) please keep blogging…might inspire me to get off my widening butt and write something of my own!

  11. Blogs can survive on stand-by, there’s no need to worry about closing them down. Also that would mean a severe blow to our hearts, so refrain from doing that :)A post of open hearts, this one.

  12. ‘The mark of vishnu’ like the Sikh turban primarily works as a public announcement of your religious identity.We both know that this is a point where we diagree with each other but i want to raise the following questions: Do we really need religion? And if we do adopt a religion do we realy need to make an exhibition of our choice?Pride about ones identity is fine in moderate quantity. But, in excessive amount, leads to jingoism which is the undoing of a lot of things…

  13. the mark of vishnuI’ve read this lesson in my 1oth standard by mr khsuhwant singsuch a nice post you have done great hardwork on your blogkeep it i always appriciate these type of blogs.may i know are you intersted in link exchange.

  14. Maybe you could write a paragraph…yes, maybe about someone you interacted with recently who struck you somehow, or someone who told you something that made you ponder something for days, or maybe just how things were when you looked at them one day… Well, everyone’s thinking of you, anyway, and hoping all is well with you : )

  15. GAURI,a cooperative of many souls – sounds like such a beautiful idea, and here i have been neglecting it :(i did pass by your blog once, did not comment though. i have been away from this world for a bit, hoping to catch up on things soon, please bear with the bum :)SHINI,it does coem to be associated with a certain 'kind' of people, but i guess its how things are with so many things. how have you been?Z,well, it gives me a good reason to stay put then!i hope you are well.BUDDY,:)CHUTNEY,may the wisdom take you places :Pthanks – its nice to have you read it too :)ADI,the name was another name of the lord balaji of tirupati, i think it is.thanks :)UNPRET,the best one you say? well, thanks!NILU,thanks – i do not know if it is a good style per se. i think it also reflects the state of my mind!!VEENA,haha. thats an interesting way of looking at it, thanks!MISSALISTER,travel does give you that feeling. but then faith in my case has always been troubled by rationality, and it goes one way or the other.i am humbled by your kinds words, as always. hoping all is well with you. miss coming over there you know!Z,ok ok, i get it!ANJANA,welcome here!!NOVEL,it is very kind of you, thanks. DEVIL,hello! i shan't do anything to break a heart such as yours, would i? ;)MUSH,yes, i'l do just that. thanks!SUPERNOVA,long time, yes. hope you are well.ANJANA,done it, finally. thanks for asking :)POOJA,well well, you get me thinking, as always. on weather or not we need religion, i am not sure – i have thought about it before, and haven't found an answer.about the turban – i am not sure if it is just a 'public declaration'. i would tend to think there would be more to it, what i shall have to google and find out :)about our identities – i dont see what is wrong in proclaiming a certain identify. i think man, by nature, needs to identify with one thing or the other. i could push it to another level and argue that the wedding ring, why, even clothes, are in a sense marks of identify!!YOUMANIA,thanks!SMITA,yes indeed. all well?ANON,:)ARTI,sure did, then!VEENA,UNPRET, GAURI, ANON, ZEUSdone! sorry about being so inconsistent :|MISSALISTER,i tried, and i realize i have been more incoherent than ever. i must let you know that you are thought of, and very fondly so. thanks for being there!VAIDYA,well yes, thats a thought. but then, is a dead blog worth the space on the internet, i wonder 🙂

  16. I am not suggesting that we do away with any of these signs/symbols that give away our identity.By all means, beleivers are free to don the turban and the mark of Vishnu and wedding rings and clothes etc…beleivers should also have the freedom to NOT do these tings if they feel their belief will remain intact even without.Freedom is important. Pride may be good.But, I feel over-pride can be harmful. The whole "we are holier than thou" trip is harmful. (in my opinion)

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