Beyond Perception: The gift of worship – Ravi Shankar Etteth

Ravi Shankar Etteth

“The temple was blazing with lights, its sides shimmering with lit lamps. The great stone lamp was like a torch in the night, its sides shining with oil. The door to god’s sanctuary was open. Hands clasped, he watched the stooped figure of a priest offering fire to the deity. In the flickering caresses of the sacred flames, the dark god gleamed and shone. He gazed at him with huge stone eyes and an inscrutable smile. ” – Ravi Shankar Etteth

Namah Shivaya!

Driving along the narrow tarred village road after decades, he chanced upon the old temple on the knoll. An ancient banyan tree stood guard like a lonely kapalika. The wooden doorway and the tiled roof of the temple’s padippura — the entrance of a traditional Malayali building — offered a dilapidated welcome. A bronze bell suspended from the lintel looked tarnished. The temple wall revealed crumbling bricks where the mortar had peeled off and roots grew through the gaps. The huge black stone lamp in the temple compound was unlit. He tapped the bell. It gave off a single, mournful peal that flew across the compound like a sad bird.

Namah Shivaya!Stepping across the worn wooden threshold, he saw the roof of the temple quadrangle sagged; the rafters darkened by time and indifference. Along the temple’s rhomboid sides, a few desultory lamps flickered in the evening wind that strode down the slopes of the Malampuzha hills, couriering the coolness of the lake and the dark shiver of the forest. The door of the sanctum sanctorum was shut. There was only the silence of the deity in sleep.

Namah Shivaya!He walked across the yard, opened the back door that was studded with iron knobs. He looked down at the temple pond. The pockmarked black stone steps led down towards a brief glimpse of dark water, carpeted with green water plants. Wild lotuses with pink, fat petals floated in their midst like lost prayers. He sat down on a step and looked out at night arriving like a hesitant guest over the brown roofs of houses, the conspiratorial foliage of treetops and the ethereal violet shadows of the faraway mountains.

Namah Shivaya!Mother was one of the few visitors to this temple, he remembered. It’s an austere Siva, he remembered her telling him, that’s why I come here. He is kinder.

Namah Shivaya!It is chance statements like these that define our everlasting perceptions, not encyclopedias. From then on, he always saw Siva as the supreme ascetic, harsh and unrelenting even in love; lost in meditation as this temple was at dusk; the god’s matted tresses and body smeared with ash, embodying an ancient, eternal greatness.

Namah Shivaya!Over the years, he had seen many temples, old and new. He has climbed hills to reach a god’s wooden home that had survived centuries of wind, snow and rain. He had watched miraculous fires burn on the surface of a temple tarn in the northern mountains. He had seen modern temples that were decorated with white tiles and had concrete roofs. God lives everywhere. But unlike the gods of Indralok, He doesn’t care where He lives. Or how He lives. Because He is the only one who knows Himself completely.

Namah Shivaya!He turned around at the sound of bells scattering like a million night birds. The temple was blazing with lights, its sides shimmering with lit lamps. The great stone lamp was like a torch in the night, its sides shining with oil. The door to god’s sanctuary was open. Hands clasped, he watched the stooped figure of a priest offering fire to the deity. In the flickering caresses of the sacred flames, the dark god gleamed and shone. He gazed at him with huge stone eyes and an inscrutable smile. He knelt and placed his forehead on the ground, felt the earth bless him and felt a lump in his throat. He felt the priest come near him, and rose to offer his forehead for the sandal mark. Mother had called Siva her austere god. Silently, he thanked her for the gift of worship. He felt immeasurably rich. – The New Indian Express, Chennai, Nov. 30, 2011

» Contact Ravi Shankar at Ravi@newindianexpress.com

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