We specialise in gods here. The Tamils love having something to worship.
And some of the gods speak for themselves as being well worth worshiping:
As you no doubt know by now, the mountain – now increasingly surrounded with urban development, is itself the embodiment of the Chief God, which is why our Full Moons are fuller here than elsewhere: millions of us walk around the body of the god every month, several hundred extra buses bring us from everywhere else. In harmony with our healthy respect for business, the hill-round route blossoms into a circular market to welcome lunar majesty. Permanent loudspeakers provide the soundtrack in irresistible Bollywood style and security cameras usher us into the modern era.
The human garland around the holy hill never entirely ceases; it might thin down on inauspicious days but not for long. The worshipful people in this gorgeous procession below (that is the theme for this blog) are carrying a small image of Lord Siva around His famous monumental embodiment:
This sacred place is also well populated with those who worship other than Hindu gods:
Today is the first of the three days festival Baqr’Eid, a time of remembrance with focus on surrender. Years ago this festival was celebrated by family picnics around the beautiful shady area surrounding the ancient, rock-lined water tank in Pellacothu. However the local tradition was forced to change about twenty-five years ago when plastic bags and other filthy garbage came to consume the rare beauty of that place, which was formerly the flower garden for the young ashram emerging after Ramana’s dear Mother died and was buried in the adjacent graveyard. Now since the degradation of their traditional picnic spot, the men of Islamic families go to the masjid for prayer while women and children pray at home before preparing the Baqr’Eid feast.
Nostalgic for those graceful days when this festival regularly revealed to us the beauty of convivial Islamic family life, I went to Pellacothu on Baqr’Eid, also on behalf of dear friend Helga who lived here many years in Paul Brunton’s house, who died last year; this is what I found:
It takes something of this proportion to banish a traditional practice.
Last count there were seventeen masjid (mosques) in this town and a large number of Madrasah – institutions of learning for Muslim families – that seem well patronised and lively; the Muslim community here has a very soft presence, there are very many Muslim shops in the bazaar and many beautiful Kashmiri shops near ashram selling exquisite handicrafts, embroidery, carpets, jewellery. The atmosphere surrounding and in the masjid is very different from that of a Hindu Temple and the great contrast between the two major faiths of India is a complementary tribute to the plurality of human expression. I’m tempted to mention that in contrast to the Hindu presence here which provides hundreds of very noisy Marriage Halls, there are only three such equivalent for the Muslims, and they make very little noise. Nice contrasting cultures these.
It is a conception of the people of India as a whole that aspiration towards the Divine is a basic human need.
We have churches too of different kinds, and an Inter-Faith Dialogue Centre that is influential in educational and pastoral care aspects of civic concern. And a very clean lavish Jain Temple also is there in the somewhat dusty or boggy back streets. As far as I can understand many of the people of these local faiths join in sometimes in the Full Moon phenomenon, or at least recognise that this mountain is special in a divine sort of way.
But the Full Moon Phenomenon takes the cake and eats it too.
Full Moons were silent, sweet, simple events here until a Bollywood Buster Boy in a second rate movie let loose the notion that Lord Siva will – particularly, for sure, at FullMoon – grant the wishes of those who walk around his form: the form as a mountain that marks the earthly point of penetration of an invisible column of light: Arunachala.
This was a corker of an idea; it must surely have been said before but when it hit the silver screen in the age of TV there was no holding it back, especially not in tandem with the gluttonous rise of the middle-classes now settling into the threat of obesity by constant retirement night after night after night into TV entertainment, especially after meals – meals sitting up now at tables like WhiteMen and don’t forget the ubiquitous refraining even from squatting at toilet in their aged-old healthy manner, contributing to the common need for a good brisk fourteen kilometre walk in rejuvenating moonlight once a month – it was a confluence of cosmic proportions that rendered the Arunachala-pradakshina Package an offering of such potential to a worshipful people under the banner of venal gods so easily satisfied.
There are heaps of lovely little corollary concepts like that if it is lightening and thunder, pouring rain in buckets when you walk around with just a plastic bag on your head, then you will surely get your washing machine; He won’t be able to resist you after a show of allegiance like that!
Remember the stony hill is an indicator of the invisible column of Light – the Light of Consciousness, that penetrates the globe.
And . . . And, it’s SO good for business.
The stalls remain operating all night long and many continue into the day following.
Allow me to mention here that India sends carcinogenic particulates circulating in our shared atmosphere constantly, causing untold suffering and death all over the globe.
Nobody seems to notice the rubbish bins.
We can put on our high hat and frame Full Moon as this community’s flagrant denial of Shakti’s manifest reality – including our responsibility as custodians of our Earth, as well as passing the buck of responsibility onto Lord Siva, Destroyer of Ignorance. This is a viable interpretation we certainly can’t deny especially the morning after the full moon when our town is filthy, exhausted, sick of it.
At the same time Full Moon is also this community’s expression of confidence in this world: the crowds garland the embodiment of the god with their joy of life, and with all the shit and crap that they use to sustain it on the way around. It is this community’s expression of gratitude to the hill for being here and being so good for business.
And this has what to do with KaliYuga you may well ask?