Om Nama Sivaya!
It was a few months before the Kailasa Yatra, when Soota visited Kailashanatha Temple in Kanchipuram. He had visited the temple before, but this visit was special. This was the first time he had the experience of doing parikrama (pradakshina) of the Lord of Kailasa…
But first, a word about the temple… Among the thousands of beautiful temples of Tamil Nadu, this one ranks right up there. It was built during the reign of the Pallava Kings, between 685 to 705 AD. (Update: Period as mentioned in the temple’s wikipedia entry. A learned reader has pointed out that the date is different by a few decades…) That’s some one thousand three hundred years ago… And what a beautiful temple… It is poetry in stone… It has exquisite architecture and sculptures… One can confidently assert that there is not enough knowledge now to understand all the aspects of this temple…
Below are a few photographs that my co-yatri Shiva took recently…
Beautiful isn’t it? And the wonder that we have such beautiful monuments in India, and we neither know their worth nor do we take reasonable efforts to conserve them. Sometimes, we don’t even know where to start. And when we do start, we mess up the whole thing. For instance, there were beautiful paintings (frescos) on the walls of the pradakshina passage of this temple. Fading with ageing of centuries, the conservators apparently thought it wise to whitewash the walls… Sigh.. Anyway, some restoration work has been attempted. For a nice write-up on the temple and these paintings, please click here to read a blog “The Legacy of Chitrasutra – Six – Kailasanatha of Kanchipuram” (It’s a very informative article… Do give it a read)…
Let us dwell a bit on that pradakshina passage…Among the many special aspects of the temple, a most interesting one is this very pradakshina (parikrama, circumambulation) passage around the main sanctum-sanctorum that houses Lord of Kailasa.
The entry into that passage is through a narrow opening that one has to crawl through, full length… Here’s what the Wikipedia entry on Kailasanathar temple says: “A circumambulatory passage, with a symbolic meaning is situated along the compound wall. In order to make the circumambulation, there is a narrow entry passage which devotees must crawl through. Seven steps must be climbed in order to reach the passage. Passing through the narrow passage is indicative of passage through life. After the circumambulation, the exit is through a pit or another narrow passage symbolic of death.”
The symbolism can be explained thus…
At the entrance of the circumambulation, you drop the old body identification behind – you renounce your “I” notion, “you” die. Leaving the old world of your “I” and “Mine” behind, you crawl through the portal and enter the world of Kailasanatha, Siva. You are in Kailasa… You do parikrama of Siva… All around you on the walls of the passage you see paintings of Siva Lila – the sport of Siva. You are completely absorbed in Siva as you do parikrama. There is no you, no world, only Siva… And then, at the end of this passage, with much effort and strain, you crawl again into a narrow exit – experiencing death again. Exiting, reborn to the world, you step out and walk into the hall in front of the sanctum-sanctorum… And when you do that, you are in a spirit of great exhilaration. You can’t believe you have managed this transition. You emerge as a new man. And now you are back in the world as well… But now your vision is different… Now, you see all world as filled with Sivam, Siva-ness… All is Siva…
Now, is this not the very symbolism of Kailasa Parikrama!
Sri Ramana Maharshi, the great sage of Arunachala, has said – “To go to Kailasa and return is just a new birth. For there the body idea drops off.”
And like in the Kanchi Kailasanatha temple parikrama, the death-birth is symbolically experienced twice over in Kailasa Mountain as well. It is first symbolically encountered in the Yamadvar on the south-west of Kailasa, and then again later on the Dolma La pass on other side of Kailasa (as we shall see later)….
And near Yamadvar is a site that connects one squarely with death…It is a Tibetan sky cremation site…
Swami Bikash Giri, the veteran of Kailasa Yatra, writes – “Situated on the southern corner of Kailash, 6 km from Tarchen is Tarpoche. This place has a flagstaff situated on a corner of a huge ground with a river flowing near it. As we move from Tarpoche, one comes across a huge ground made up of a same type of stone. One will find lots of torn clothes, broken utensils, strands of hair and shoes here. In the middle of the ground there is a round stonewall. Whenever any local man dies, his dead body is first brought to Tarpoche by car. The dead body is cut to pieces, and put inside the rounded wall, which serves as food for kites, crows and dogs. The items such as clothes and utensils, etc of the dead man are also thrown at this place…”
Evidently, the idea is to renounce the body identity and the all the attachments of that body…
And yes, there is a sky crematorium site on the other side of Kailas as well.
But one need not worry… Unless one is looking for them, you will not come across these sites in your parikrama. The guides hustle you through the parikrama, and the language difference inhibits any meaningful communication. Moreover, you are battling with your own fear of unknown, and focused as you are on your parikrama, you are not likely to be distracted with questions such as these… Soota missed it all right… Connecting the dots only later…
Be that as it may…
Yes, the holy places of Siva are associated with death. He is the God of Dissolution. He is the shmashana adhipathi, the Lord of the cremation ground. The ancient and holy city of Kashi (Banares, Varanasi) is one big cremation ground. In the Sankalpa mantra-s chanted there, the city is referred to as a Maha-shmashana-bhoomi, “a great cremation ground.” . And to die in Kashi is said to bestow salvation, freedom from the endless death-birth cycle.
Yes…The presence of Siva makes the cremation ground auspicious…. Most auspicious… The body identification dies…Siva-ness alone remains.
As the great sage Kabir of Kashi says,
जीवन मृतक ह्वै रहै, तजै जगत की आस।
तब हरि सेवा आपण करै, मति दुख पावै दास
When a man dies alive, renouncing all attachment to the world, then Hari, the Lord, himself comes to serve. Indeed, no sorrow can touch a devotee of Hari…
This is the essence. The death of body identification…The death of the mind… And being alive to Siva, in Siva, as Siva.
So here we are… At the first death-life crossover at Yamadvar… And here, again, is a view of Kailasa from there (For source click here).
And at this point, let me once more rewind to another memory.
It was 25th June, 2013, the day that I was catching a flight to Kathmandu from Delhi, starting off on this Kailasa Yatra. In the airport bookshop, my eyes fell on a book ‘Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master – A Yogi’s Autobiography’, By Sri M. I had not heard of this book before. It looked interesting and I picked it up. I had no idea that the author had also written about his own Kailasa Yatra in that book…. I read it when I could during the Yatra, and completed it upon completion of the Yatra, back in Kathmandu.
In this book, the author, “M”, shares the incredible story of his spiritual journey… Writing about his Maanas-Kailas Yatra, he narrates a very interesting experience in Manasarovar, where he has a vision of a yogi of Gorakhnath panth coming out of the waters and blessing him. He also had visions of his own past life, as a loin-cloth clad yogi meditating in a cave in Gurla Mandhata mountain, overlooking the Maanas…
Here is a quote from the book, where he narrates his experience at Yamadvar, on the first day of his Kailasa Parikrama
“Then, we reached the Yama Dwar. Here, we had the closest view of the great Kailash, sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and the Bonpas of Tibet. As the great snow peak towered above us, an extraordinary deep meditative mood enveloped me,
Some of our group who had opted for ponies had to wait till the ponies and porters could be organized. Others like me, decided to walk the parikrama, but we waited at Yama Dwar for half an hour. I sat down on a rock facing Kailash and dived deep into myself. I heard the sound of the little drum called Damaru which Shiv Mahadev holds in his hand whilst dancing the Tandava Nritya, dance of destruction, in my inner ear – dug, dug, dug, dug… This was soon replaced by the enormous bhum, bhum, bhum that seemed to explode inside my head. With my inner eye, I could perceive a strong, conical, whirl wind at a distance. It was moving towards me, threatening to take me with it. Suddenly, I heard the loud greeting of the Natha – Alek Niranjan and the typhoon disappeared. The whirling stopped, there was absolute silence. I opened my eyes, said Sivoham and began to walk. Sivoham remained with me throughout the journey and even afterwards”
Concluding this post with a verse from Jagadguru Shankaracharya’s Nirvana Shatkam
न मृत्युर् न शंका न मे जाति भेदः ,
पिता नैव मे नैव माता च जन्मा ,
न बन्धुः न मित्रं गुरुर् नैव शिष्यः ,
चिदानन्द रूपः शिवोहं, शिवोहं ||
Neither death nor doubt have I,
Nor any difference of race!
Neither a father have I, nor mother, nor birth,
No relatives, no friends, no Guru, no disciple!
I am the ever pure consciousness-bliss,
Siva am I! Siva am I!
*** To be continued **