The last photo I shot, and the most welcome sign I’ve seen ever.
Some people have called me crazy, for such inane things as talking back to a professor or drinking 5 cups of coffee in 2 hours. If only they knew what I did last Sunday.
I shall begin though, at the beginning. There was a star we called the Sun. Then there were 9 rocks, each called by different names. The one I know best is the third one. Called Earth, it is pretty tiny. On that is a tiny country called India, part of which is a tinier state called Tamil Nadu. But nothing about Tamil Nadu is tiny. The people, the places, the temples. But the biggest of them all is the people’s belief in god, and in Salvation. And no place knows more about Salvation than Chidambaram.
Shiva, the destroyer/regenerator of Indian mythology is considered the ultimate, for he holds in him the power of death and Salvation. Usually represented as the Lingam (a sign of harmony, the Lingam is the union of the female and the male, of Shakthi and Shivam, of energy and matter)
An important aspect of the Indian religion is the worship of the elements of nature. And in this, Tamil Nadu preserves a much earlier, pantheistic religion in its representation of the five basic elements (pancha-bhutankal) – Earth, Fire, Air, Water, Ether/Space.
These five elements are represented by five special lingams in five different temples. Chidambaram is the seat of the Ether Lingam.
Allow me now to take a back seat, and let my great grandfather continue this little story.
The apprehension of God in the last of these five as ether is, according to the Saiva school of philosophy, the highest form of worship, for, it is not the worship of god in a tangible form, but the worship of what, to ordinary minds, is vacuum, which nevertheless leads to the attainment of a knowledge of the all-pervading without physical accessories in the shape of any linga, which is, after all, an emblem.
That this is the case in Chidambaram is known to every hindu, for if he ever asks the priests to show him the god in the temple he is pointed to an empty space in the most holy of the holies, which has been termed the akasha, or the ether-linga. In this lies the so called Chidambaram rahasya – the secret of worship in the sacred city of Chidambaram. When any devotee has reached the stage of worshipping God in this manner, he is, according to the Saiva Doctrine, deemed to be exempt from all future births and is supposed to secure absorption in the supreme essence of God.
Pandit Natesa Shastri in the NRI Bhakta.
After listening patiently to what the priest had to say of the temple and its history, and not finding any answers to the one question I had (viz. why are the pillars each in a different style?). I head out to Sirgazhi.
The river Kollidam, the most major distributory/arm of Cauveri, lies between Chidambaram and Sirgazhi. Riding on a deserted bridge, with the river bed gleaming in the sun, and tiny trickles of water forming pools here and there is a sight I will always hold dear. Across the bridge, and into Nagapattinam district is a matter of 5 minutes.
(to be continued)