The other morning, I awoke early at 4:12a (according to my $4 Bistec Indian Sport Watch) and decided to walk down to the temple because I had heard that there are prayers there early. I walked there by the fluorescent street lamps placed a couple of hundred feet apart, past the small dilapidated concrete temple with a large overhang sleeping about 6 people under silent blankets, and into the compound toward the main temple. Not a soul to be found. I got there, removed my shoes and went to the marble grounds before the steps up and prayed/meditated for awhile in the peaceful and cool pre-dawn air. Women with brooms and mops began sweeping and cleaning. After about 20 minutes, I heard rhythmic clapping and the voice of young boys singing. They all (probably 100 of them) walked around me, up the temple steps, around to the left, back down and off to somewhere, all the while singing with the passion of a Chelsea/Manchester Soccer Match. They were followed by the girls.
I got up, walked a few maybe a dozen laps around the temple (they call that ‘parikrama’ here – the walking or circumambulation around a temple or a mountain). While I did that, a woman in a sari prostrated there with feet pointed fully back and hands pointed fully forward and proceeded to roll in this position completely around the temple, 4 turns included, a total distance of about 100 yards. I must say I love India. When this was all done, I looked and found that a whole new thing was happening in the center of the adjoining covered pavilion.
I went to look and found three shirtless men preparing for what appeared to be a fire ceremony in a 5’x5’ pit a couple of feet deep. They waived me to sit and watch/partake so I did. It was amazing. One man headed the stick and fire salts committee, another was the key chanter and the other guy, I think the leader, was handling the holy water, chanting, and ladling some combustible (I think it may have been ghee) onto the steadily growing fire. They may have OCD here in India too because the stick guy was focused on sorting all the sticks into size groupings, and the ghee guy seemed to like to have things lined up nicely too. It lasted a long time and it struck me that this specific ceremony may have been going on for the past many thousands of years. In fact, I just read in my guidebook that parts of Tamil Nadu (the state in India where I’m travelling so far) have the longest continuing culture on earth, with many rituals, and practices being performed as and where they were for the past 4 thousand years or so). So the chief chanter guy is going a mile a minute, kind of like a country auctioneer trying to cover centuries of karma ablutions for all of mankind. The holy water sprinkles are flying including a deliberate splash towards me, the incredibly quick back and forth dobbing of the official dobber. Chants are kind of a call and response with all three of them partaking, flames setting the scene aglow. The children march back in and sit down picking up for a second half pep rally led by an older man with a megaphone. 5 women sit next to megaphone man and start their own chanting/singing in very tight harmony reminding me of Bulgarian chanting a little, as the kids march out. As I’ve tried to impress in previous posts, so much happens at once here and this was no exception. 3 different vocalizations were happening at once with fire, ghee and splashing, all while women are sweeping the steps, children are marching, and others are washing the idol (I believe it to be Shiva, but more so).
When the fire puja is ove,r we walk up to the temple and more washings and splashings of the idol occur while we get holywatered. My experience of this entire event was one of simply marveling at the unfoldingness and simultaneity of it all, and my ‘isness’ in the middle of it. Oh, and there was fire in this part too in a fire chalice of sorts and you put our hands in it and then wipe them on your face, some form of personal fire cleansing I trust. And then a new thing for me, I got a tilak (the red dot smeared on the forehead during worship). You take your own smear off a plate and then you go for it! I did it and it was wonderful. It felt like I had “taken communion.”
Then bells, bells, bells rung again and again from different directions, and a procession including myself to the 4 corner altars where they were opened and incensed and invoked and smoked and fired, then back to the Shiva for yet more splashings. When it was all over, I turned to leave the altar and marveled to myself with amazement and awareness of perfection, “and here comes the dawn” for dawn had indeed broken.
So after about 2 ½ hours, the ceremony was over and I grabbed a beautiful woman named Bhoo who allowed me to take her picture telling me she was 81 years old. She had the sweetest loving countenance and ease about her.
Finally some food was served, simple food in a cup made of leaves. I think they call that food offering a ‘prasad,’ but either way it was nice.
Talked with a sweet Indian man from Indonesia named Chandra here to put his son in school (he’ll be raucously singing soon enough) and while we were just standing and talking a man came up to me (now I know him to be Rangan Mama (or Uncle Rangan) who started right in on a sermon of sorts on unconditional love. It was beautiful. He talked probably for about 5 minutes straight – “Love everybody by seeing the divine in everybody, everybody is divine, the body dies, what is divine never dies, we see and we don’t like, but we must see the divine, the divine is in everybody, no room for self hate, you are God, everybody is God,” etc. Miracles here I tell you, Miracles.
Sam invited me for tea nd we went together to what is called Sam’s Café where I met Dwaranakath who gave praise to god for everything including the tea. Sweet man with a do rag on.
And so I went back to my room, 7:30am, fully satisfied and full of the Divine.