Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking. – Kahlil Gibran
At the grand tower at the entrance, all of spiritual philosophy is condensed to the simple maxim ‘Anbe Sivam’ (Love is Siva), reminding us of the power of love. It strikes me how I have never noticed this. Despite the innumerable times I have come to this temple. Despite now and then noticing a long stranger, usually of white skin, peering curiously at the brightly painted intricate figures on the tower, now just gazing, now clicking a photograph.
A bunch of topless brahmins chant the Rudram in tandem. One of them is fanning himself with an old fashioned hand fan. I can’t help but notice they aren’t doing too well with the intonations that are so typical of vedic chants.
A beautiful, middle aged woman is standing right in the middle of the courtyard. I am fascinated by the blouse of her saree – a bunched, semi short sleeve, giving it a nice old fashioned appeal. My gaze meets her eyes, and she beckons me with just the slightest nod. “Here”, she says, handing over a massive coconut and point to the area adjacent to us. It is a small tank of sorts, with a rock – evidently to break coconuts as an offering to the deities.
An old, toothless man, with bright blue eyes is sitting all by himself. He wears a smile of contentment. He invites a child passing by to shake hands with him, and then blesses the child, by way of placing his palm on the child’s head for a second. I behold the most benevolent look on the man’s face for a brief moment, fold my hands in what I believe is the most endearing form of greeting a fellow human being, before I move on.
“Manattai vaangadai, pesama va“, (“Don’t embarrass me, be silent”), a man admonishes a little boy who is prancing around shouting merrily. I wonder what it means for the kid, to be silent and follow the etiquette of the adult world in a place so alien to childhood as a temple. A wry smile passes my lips, as I wonder what the ash smeared śmaśānavāsin would have to say to the parent, for He seems to be in an eternal calm – untouched and unperturbed.
In the sanctum sanctorum, I behold Her in the most resplendent form. Today she is attired in purple, decked with white and red flowers. No matter what I think of, while entering her abode, once there, She always invokes the most indescribable emotion in me. I stand there, in silence – there is nothing to ask for, just to be able to behold Her for those few minutes seems sufficient. Tears roll down my cheeks, I know not why. There isn’t happiness, neither sadness, just an unspeakable emotional outpouring.
A young man sits in a corner, with the symbol of Shakti brightly adorning his forehead. He is still, squatted, with his eyes closed. In the midst of the chants and the din of varied voices, he presents a picture of concerted effort. To remain silent, and perhaps look within.
Finally, I enter the aboard of One who supposedly plucked away one of Brahma’s head. I am greeted by the mellifluous voice of a young man, probably in his thirties. With his eyes closed, he is singing aloud verses that are probably from the Tevaram. He doesn’t seem bothered about what is going on around him, there is an air of boundless freedom about him. In some ways, he presents a sharp contrast to the orderly group chanting in unison, at the entrance of the temple, I tell myself. In contrast to Her, here it is just what some controversially believe to be a phallic symbol. To others, it represents the ‘formless form’. There is no emotion here. Just a calm silence that engulfs me as I try to apprehend the Limitless One with a fairly limited mind.
“Why did you go to the temple?”, I was asked. At times, it is difficult to answer such questions. There may have been a conscious thought to go, today. I am not someone who frequents temples regularly. I wonder if I go on a whim, an impulse, so to speak. Sometimes other people want to go and I accompany. At other times, I think it is an answer to some call. In Vaishno Devi, I would hear every other pilgrim say “Chalo bulaawa aaya hai” (“The call has come, let us go”).
And that is one of those contradictions, the one among many others in me – the one who is oscillating forever between faith and rationale.