Friday, March 13, 2015

shivaratri and the spirit of yoga

Barbara capturing the light show at Srikanteshwara Temple in Nanjangud.
I wish I actually had her photo of the light streaming into the stone structure, truly divine! 

It is Shivaratri and we assemble a group to make the road trip to Nanjangud, where Srikanteshwara Temple has drawn Shivite devotees and Hindu pilgrims since ancient times--harrowingly, on scooters. There are busses and large trucks with sugar cane. There are rickshaws and cars. There are livestock of all sorts, on foot and on wheels. All of which stirs up the dirt on the road and just sticks on skin. 

We get there, dodging vendors, and we wait in line. We buy a ticket, which is kind of odd, after all, surely, there should be no express lines to see gods. No one complains, however, because it is definitely faster. Much faster. 

Still, there is waiting, the eagerness to get to the holy of holies, to bow before the representation of the Divine, make for anxious crowding, in which there is no room for personal space, some que-snaking is there, and any movement forward must be filled in immediately otherwise there will be unhappy glaring or, worse yet, the loosing of one's place. It is ok, we laugh (reminded of how we actually duplicate this on led mornings) and we wait patiently until the jolting moment of being quickly shuffled in and out, allowing only the briefest glimpses of the inner sanctum, where a golden head of Shiva shines. And as I'm spit back out into the inner courtyard, I feel that it certainly was..something... but I also cannot help but wonder: what was all that about? Did we really travel, braving Indian holiday traffic, all that way for that so-called sacred moment? Anticlimactically, it seemed to have come and gone so quickly.

And then we walk. Slowly, dazed a bit from all the hubbub. But now there is space. And we take our time, stopping at our leisure, viewing lingam after lingam, dropping bills, and sweeping blessing-filled smoke onto the crown of our heads at smaller stations that hold related deities that dot the temple complex, resisting the urge to capture the moment with our phones/cameras in exchange for being in the moment. 

Despite the previous rush and chaos, all around us now is the sanctity of the present: motes of light drawing lines across the stone structure, the earnestness of devotees as they pray, as they light candles, as they circle Nandi and whisper into his ear their deepest desires for the year, as we ourselves admit our secret wishes to the stone bull, as women in their saris roll their bodies across the mid-day heated concrete in front of the temple--how I love this unabashed reverence for God. 

And we sit and we watch, all around us Indians of all ages: the young, the old, babies, teenagers. We take it all in, because it is both so strange and yet so familiar. And it happens: we sink into the spirit of the festival celebrating Shiva, Yogeshwari, the god of yoga because isn't this why we are really here in Mysore in the first place?

That despite the human whirlwind that we create around this place, despite the occasional rushing--not just of bodies trying to secure some spot but of our egos begging for recognition, despite the stirring of deep practice that on more than a few occasions can cause more chaos than peace, at least in the beginning, being here is a quiet celebration of the human spirit which is constantly transforming with practice, it is a reminder that nothing is impossible, that we are always more than what we think we are, that each layer we burn/destroy/peel away doesn't just bring us closer to ourselves but also closer to something so undefinably greater than ourselves, call it Shiva, or God, or Source.