The first time I noticed it, I was perhaps three years old. The Shivalinga inside the main shrine was bigger than most of us kids.
My memory had not yet learned to form impressions or retain information in boxes and slots, and label them happy or sad. Living was rather immaculate.
I think I learned the swagger of living, moderating, brokering, acting and you know things that adults do, a little later on in life when I was taught how to feel a certain way during certain times.
The bell was situated adjacent to a three tiered temple as part of the tenor of the shrine and thus it charmed the devotees like a sound magnet.
We had to take off our shoes, bow our heads in reverence as we climbed a few steps up to the place of worship. The Shivalinga was ubiquitous in our small town, tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas. The elders mentioned that this was one of our deities and we prayed to him.
It was shaped like an egg and placed on a circular base. The egg shaped God was surrounded by garlands of seasonal flowers and the milk was poured on the elliptical structure as priests chanted strangely vibrating mantras: “Om Namaha Shivaya, Om Namaha Shivaya…” (na—earth, ma—water, si—fire, va—air, ya—ether) We grew up chanting and pulsating with the mantras.
The blind worship accumulated more milk, more flowers, more chanting and one day a little more curiosity.
“This thing that we are worshipping, I heard are the male and female private parts.” My cousin Nicky whispered to me.
“What?” I was horrified, stunned like a tight slap had landed across my left cheek. I did not believe her and decided to ignore her for the rest of the day, while slipping in-and-out of astonishment and innate inquisitiveness. My 12 year old mind could not fathom why we should be worshiping joined private parts. I felt betrayed. I had even made one with clay in my pottery class!
At night when the lights were out, I slipped into my cousin’s room and asked her again. “What do you mean? The Shivalinga is the male and female parts?”
Nicky said, “Girl, that is all I know. I have a test tomorrow; I need to get some rest. 8th grade is turning out to be quite tiresome! Wait until next year, you will see. Good night!” She turned around and I heard her breathing softly, unaware that she had split open the first constellation of my symbolic existence in this Universe.
“Tantra is just the union of male and female, the integration, the magic of creation.” He slowly sipped a square shaped bottle of Fiji water, his eyes staring vacuously into space. He looked a little drugged to me but the word around was that he was in a perpetual trance. His saffron colored robe covered his muscled stomach and his left hand was in Abhaya mudra.
The afternoon sun scorched my back and I wondered if I had traveled all the way from Hong Kong to Bangalore to watch a sadhu (sage)/Guru drink expensive, controversial Fiji water and tell me things that I had already read in the Book of Tantra.
At this moment he glanced at me and motioned his assistant with some instructions.
“Ma’am, he wants to talk to you in private.” The obsequies assistant relayed the message to me.
The golden room revealed statues like the façade of Khajuraho temple, copulating Gods and Goddesses on the Southern side of the wall, an ornate chaise lounge covered with an intricately designed Tibetan rug sat in the corner of the room. In the north corner of the room radiating beyond fulsome devotion stood—the Shivalinga. I walked over to pay my respects and couldn’t help touching the smooth spherical structure that felt so natural in my hands.
“Doesn’t that feel sensual?” I heard a deep voice, turned around and the Guru had replaced his saffron robes with a pair of Calvin Klein jeans and a plain white t-shirt.
“Did you not think that you wanted to learn about Tantra and that I was doing nothing more than giving you book knowledge?” his greenish blue eyes seared through my shocked senses. How did he know what I was thinking? I have been able to determine other people’s thoughts, but have I been this confident and on target?
“Get Naked!” he said, staring me down, attempting to hypnotize me. In my mind all my black belt karate moves started resurging in my legs.
“Are you out of your f******* mind? I am a journalist and a karate black belt; I can hit you with both!”
“Yes, that is why I want you to go beyond your body. Take off your clothes…”
He looked commanding but not controlling, so I picked up my red purse which had slipped under the chaise lounge and as I was storming out of his peaceful white ashram, he caught me by my right arm and touched that sensitive area, between my eyes brows—the third eye!
The coffee tasted delicious. The aroma seemed to wake up my senses as each heart of every theme inside my life awakened with the delicate “sense” of the spirit or the bouquet of the “un café américain déca, Du lait, s’il vous plait,”
percolated drop by drop into my impression, arousing a sense of restful awakening.
It had been eight years since my visit with the Guru in Bangalore and my cynicism had heightened.
The sun was setting and the Eiffel Tower loomed large in front of my eyes. The kids on roller blades, weaving through those yellow and black cones were wrapping up. I sat on the steps sipping my coffee and ruminating on the book I had just bought, written by Zishan Kashyap. He had asked me to write a segment and I had obliged, but I knew there was more to the symbol of the Shiva Ling., Although I had produced a carefully researched thesis I wanted it to be the experience. I plowed deeper into my consciousness when I heard a booming Sean Connery like voice.
“Haven’t we met before?” He sat next to me and stared at the sky.
I recognized him. “Yeah, we had the same flight together from Hong Kong.”
“Synchronocity?” he quizzed me.
“I believe in that…a little!” I didn’t want to reveal too much about me. He stroked his grey beard with long frail fingers and then placed his hand on my thigh. His long white hair combed and tied to the back reflected the golden rays of the sun, giving him a halo which was admittedly disarming. As skeptical as I had become I did not walk away, some external force held me back.
“What are you reading?” he looked at me and when our eyes engaged it was an act of fine balance, like a see saw.
Words and language left the Parisian air and that American guy busking at the foot of the steps singing, “Losing my Religion.” Then a silence descended upon us, a meditation that reached into the fingers of my awareness, searching deeper into the multi-layered mystery.
The bright skies sublimated into an oblivious stupor like conception where a purple portal opened up and I started hovering above the steps and then the language of nothing fluidly flowed into the core of my body beyond.
“You are the symbol. You are the symbology. You are the Universe. The Linga resembles the mark of the universe and the bottom base as the Supreme Power holding the entire Universe in it. Very much the representation of you, but then, who are you? The mere reflection and symbol of life and love and creation and existence and continuum…nothing and everything all at once. Simple and complicated. The river and the vortex, the wings and the talons, the sky and the blue….”
Concurrently the Earth, the grain of sand, the drop of ocean, the snow flake, the voices, the wings, the animals, the bones and the blood, the spirit and the air, the glow of the star—all of it exploded, and then imploded out-and-in as me. I was gone and I was born. I was everything and nothing. I was the worship. I was the symbol. And I was not.
When I regained this temporal tangibility, the American was still singing “Losing my Religion” and I saw the faint figure of the man who was with me disappear into the crowd. I did not follow him. I did not have to. I was Home or was the symbol of it.
Author: Adwiti Subba Haffner
Editor: Travis May