On the 28th of January I made a visit to one of the ancient spiritual epicentres of India, Tiruvannāmalai. We drove far; and from the windows of our luxury car the whole of India dazzled us with her extravagant displays of colour,hazard, texture, taste, continual sound and raw pulsating life.
I could write long into the journey alone, but my task is to tell you of the deeper ancient power of this great city of pilgrimage.
We rose at 4:15 on the 28th of January. A difficult day for me as it marked the anniversary of my husband having a massive heart attack, dying but then my recussitating him, with the assistance of our sweet children, and bringing him back to us. Add to this my husband not wanting to leave us – not yet. We all witnessed too much.
With this shock still prominent in my mind, and armed with a little practice at reciting ancient Sanskrit mantras, I stepped out to the darkness at 5:00 am, alongside my yoga school buddies and our teacher, Krishna from Shrimath Yoga School.
We were to walk the 14 km pilgrimage trail which encircles the base of the holy mountain which towers over the town of Tiruvannāmalai
When we had arrived, the previous evening, all travel-stained and fatigued after the six hour (luxury) drive. Our teachers urged us to visit some of the holy temples. For me my strongest reaction came in the temple of Seshadri Swāmigal. I’m a novice to training in the true yogic spiritual way – my yoga experiences have been firmly rooted in local sports club venues, or on the lounge floor of my dear Polish friend, Marzena’s house. But dedicated I am, and harbour an acute need to immerse myself in this practice; to learn much more about meditation and the latent spirituality that’s bubbled up in me, untapped, at all times throughout my chequered, and at times frightening journey through life – that is, until this evening in India!
In the rambling temple of Seshadri Swāmigal, we took our shoes off and quietly padded into the open air complex of old stone, plaster and paint buildings. I felt the textures of the lovingly worn paving, of grains of sand, sharp stones and the precious aroma of Oud wood snaking through the sultry evening air. The rythmn of the place was dominated by the deep rich and resonant chanting of a solitary priest.
We were instructed to repeat the mantra of our choice and, depending upon our age, walk around the inner sanctum of the shrine of Seshadri Swāmigal. Being 52, I was required to walk eighteen times around. I began my favourite mantra and after circling the shrine, past the interred remains of the Saint, I began soon to experience an overpowering wave of grief rolling up inside me – from my lower body and gathering momentum in my diaphragm, into my lungs and heart and out from my eyes in a deluge of tears. It was amazing, unstoppable and of a force that simply blew any doubts that were ever planted in me that there are very great forces that I/we must find our way back to now in this spoilt and childish world of ours. And so I went with myself, and let the tears fall and walk, and chant and follow the waves and ease the pain and the soothing and the lightness and the bliss and the blessing of the priest. All with flowers and red rice in my hair and sugar cystals in my mouth, a smear of holy ash on my forehead and a red dot on my forehead. I was over my grief.
As we stepped, barefoot into the darkened street at 5:00 am the next morning, I knew that more deep mysteries were hovering in the charged atmosphere of the ancient route at the base of mountain. Several things shifted in me, but as I trod the path I became intensely aware of the issues that had spurred me to travel away from my family in Denmark. I resolved them as I chanted quietly – I say I, but I simply hadn’t accepted all the changes. So I surrendered to the Divine, and saw it all clearly in the bright new light that filtered through my mind.
We stopped to visit and experience the temple of Yogihamsuratkumar. My sweetest recollection is of the gracious, goodly and beautiful lady who gently scolded us for entering holy ground clasping filthy sandals, then filled the air with divine and very feminine chanting. She even served us hot, sweet tea in the old refectory. I smiled and shyly thanked her; looking into her eyes I saw such beauty and goodness. She was healing me too.
One final deep experience with a living Saint came in the form of a lady called Toppiamma. I studied the way that she carried herself with such dignity, and the correctness she employed in her negotiation with believers. In short, I liked and respected her very much. We walked away from her, but I wanted to show my faith in her. Speaking with one of my yoga teachers, I expressed how I wanted to give her the favourite scarf that I was wearing. I really like this scarf, but I wanted to sacrifice something to her…albeit it a colourful textile. My yoga teacher encouraged me to follow my instinct.
Crossing the chaotic road, I knealt and offered it to her. She fixed me with her golden, fathomless and dazzling eyes and we met somewhere very far from the dusty road. I offered my scarf and she indicated that I should put it on myself. I respected her then even more, she knew that this scarf was a sacrifice. She was more than aware to let this weary traveller keep her beloved gift from her husband.
I will abruptly leave you now, and continue my studies in Yoga and my search for ? I need to sleep now and recharge for another day in this amazing land.
Thank you for bearing with me 🙂