Friday, October 12, 2007

Chandrabandi Mandir

I had one of the most memorable moments of my life, one of the few times in my life when I was truly happy, the kind of happiness that permeates throughout your whole body, through every single cell, it seems. So let me explain.

Living here on the ashram, we, as you might imagine, follow a fairly strict ashram schedule. At 3:30 we wake up, at 4 we meditate. This has definitely been an adjustment, but the meditation I believe has been very beneficial. I have not meditated for quite a long time, but I have just thrown myself back into, meditation at least two hours a day. Anand ji, my boss/guru, has also given me great questions about the mind in relation to the body and brain, and given me his interesting insight into his perception of reality and the role of meditation.
So after an invigorating meditation session, I had decided to explore a bit in the time before breakfast, given that the ashram's backyard is a vast network of forest trails, rudimentarily linking villages and amazing vantage points. We ended a little early and it was still dark out, so climbed a bit to a higher clearing and laid on my back taking in the vast blanket of stars above. And I have never seen so many stars! The ashram uses very little outside light, when there is electricity, as well as the surrounding small townships, so the night sky is absolutely pristine. I waited until the raising sun painted the sky a light purple color, and utilized the half light to make my way to the top of our mountain as to see the other side. I was greeted by a striking view of himalaya stacked upon himalaya, with such a dense forest cover, I couldn't imagine anything inhabiting such terrain but animals. In the valley lay the early morning mist sneaking up the mountain side. I hiked up a bit to take a seat on a rock to take in the sun rise. When the sun hit the cloud cover it shot godshine into the valley turning the mist a brilliant orange, and spreading pastels across the sky. It was amazing, simply put.

About five kilometers away, on the next mountain peak, is located a seventh century BC Devi temple, Chandrabadni. For those familiar with Hinduism, this is a very important temple in the story of Shiva ji and his first wife, Sati. For those not familiar, basically, Shiva and Sati were madly in love with each other, to the disapproval of Sati's father, Daksha Prajapati. Later, he conducted an important yagya prayer ceremony, involving the construction of a fire, and invited all of the important Gods, except for, of course, Shiva and his own daughter. Sati, being quite stubborn, forced herself into the ceremony, even after suffering much verbal abuse from her father. Once inside and blinded with anger, she obliviously ran into the ceremonial fire and was burned to death. When Shiva received the news, he was filled with tremendous rage. He, first, chopped of the head of Sati's father, and picked up the charred remains of his wife and flew around the HImalayas, weeping and beyond consolation. Now, in this state of immense grief, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma became worried that Shiva ji was losing his Godly force, or Shakti, which was dangerous to the world order, given that Shiva is the powerful God of destruction. Vishnu and Brahma summoned up their shakti, sending a heavenly fire bolt (sudarshan chakra) down to earth, piercing Sati's corpse into 108 fragments that were scattered across the world, every place becoming a holy site (some priests contests that stonehenge is one such site). Chandrabadni is where the largest piece, her torso, settled.

When I got to the base of the mountain, I rang the bell on the gateway of the paved path to the temple and began to navigate the zigzags to the peak. When I got to the top, अरे भागवन!, I don't know how to describe the feeling. It really felt like I was perched up in the heavens, peering down on all of what is pristine and good on this earth. The air was fresh and cool, and a small breeze flapped the red triangle flags surrounding the outer perimeter of the temple walls and sailed the fragrant smoke of dhoop, an incense used for pooja in the main temple's altar, into my nostrils. I got there just in time for morning pooja, so I got to watch the priest preform arthi, a fire offering, recite some Sanskrit hymns to the Devi, Durga, then he gave me a bell and I shook it continually while he poured Ganges water on all of the ten or so murtis around the outside of the temple. When the pooja was completed, I wandered around the temple, to find the cloud cover had dissipated, unveiling probably six or so of the big guys, the snow capped Himalayas. I have seen them before in Mussoorie and Darjeeling, but never with such clarity, and never so close. All I can say is अरे वाह.

All of this just in the first couple days in the ashram. This is the happiest I have been in a long, long time. I really hope that this will continue.

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