Jyotir Lingum Yatra

A travel log for my journey to 10 Jyotir Lingums throughout south and central India, November-December 2002 with my yoga group, Dhyanyoga Centers.

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Thursday, August 07, 2003
Why I am a Hindu

"I am a Hindu because of the sculptured cones of red kumkum powder and baskets of yellow tumeric nuggets, because of garlands of flowers and pieces of broken coconut, because of the clanging of bells to announce one's arrival to God..."

-- from Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Right now I am reading this wonderful story called Life of Pi. I am reading it slowly, savoring it. Not only does the story resonate with me because of my own personal relationship to my beliefs and experiences, but I thought this little quote set the stage for some of the pictures I want to share with you today, despite struggling with my scanner and also being in the midst of many other projects.

The following images are street scenes that I thought began to capture the color and texture of street life in India, especially when it surrounds a famous holy place. The temple at the center of these pictures is dedicated to a great saint named Jnaneshwar. Unfortunately I was not allowed to take pictures inside, but I liked the results from outside in any case.

Entrance to shrine

Painting of Jnaneshwar

Street vendors outside temple

Notice the cones of red kumkum powders

On the way to the shrine

The colorful commercial vehicles always caught my attention.

Until next post, Namaste!

Thursday, June 26, 2003
The Ellora Caves

These were some of the first pictures I had developed upon returning from India last December. I remember wrinkling my nose at them, because I did not think that they adequately captured the carved magnificence and structural awesomeness of the ancient Ellora temples.

I took a second look at them recently, and realized that even if they could not convey how truly impressed I was with this famous place, I should still share them.

These caves were home to a string of temples where Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists co-existed harmoniously.

The group's tour guide walked us to the far end of the complex and we worked our way back. I had a tendency to lag behind with my camera, which kind of annoyed the tour guides, I think. *shrugs*

This is the main structure, an ornate temple carved into the side of this hill, probably about three stories tall, at least. Look toward the lower left hand corner to see the people and get an idea of scale. Imagine walking up the hill itself and around the back of the temple and looking down on it, which is what some of us did. My only issue was the guys following us to hawk tour books, when I needed to watch my footing!

Another picture of the temple, from a closer perspective, as we were hiking up the hill.

A detail of the temple carvings.

Guardians on a lotus on top of the main temple chamber.

The complexity of the structure is still breathtaking to me even now, based only on pictures and memories.

A detailed carving from inside the temple complex at ground level. The delicate quality of this ancient sculpture remains apparent even today.

Celestial beings flying above us are a universal archetype.

Unusual columns

Wall of dieties

Fancy Dress

Having visitors from a foreign land was enough of an excluse for some of these little ladies to put on their fancy outfits. How could I resist taking a picture?

Notice the variety of garments, from traditional costumes to modern girls' dresses.

Young boys can be as handsome and photogentic as the girls.

Big sister

I know I have said this before, but I would have enjoyed spending a few more days at the ashram in Nikora. The people and the facilities were so very nice.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Ram Sweet Ram

All the Jyotir Lingum temples we visited were bustling with activity. Perhaps that's what makes the memory of the simpleness and sweetness of this Lord Ram temple so pleasant.

While it certainly was not deserted, this temple was much less intense than what we had gotten used to.

In this style of temple structure, the deities are viewed from a little distance. The priest presents the offerings directly.

Ram, an incarnation of Vishnu, is seen in the middle, with his brother Lakshman to the left and his wife Sita to the right.

Stalls that offer religious pictures to devotees are very popular, especially near the temples.

A typical market scene. There I am taking pictures of the motorcycles again!

Wednesday, June 18, 2003
The Return of Saturn, again and again

If you're at all into astrology, you'll know that Saturn, also known as Shani in Indian astrology, has a profound effect in our lives. If you're into astronomy, you'll know that it takes may Earth years for Saturn to orbit once around the Sun. Consequently, Saturn is also refered to as the "slow-moving" one.

Hindus worship Lord Shani, imploring him to have mercy on them, and lessen negativity in their lives. This temple was very unique in that it was completely open-air, so everyone in the area could have darshan of the monolith. Another feature of this temple was that only men who were freshly showered and clothed (notice the orange fabric dhotis on the men) could so direct worship/puja here. Shani is especially worshipped on Saturdays, since that day of the week is associated with Saturn. We were there on Saturday, December 7, 2002.

Gallons of ghee (clarified butter) were offered to Shani, the form here is the black stone in the middle of this picture.

This temple was especially popular that Saturday.

Many temple stalls lead the way to the entrance, which was past this building on the right.

Places to purchase items for the home (like horseshoes and little voodoo-ish dolls) to ward off negative energy.

I was always checking out those motorcycles!

Do you remember me telling you about having one of those voodoo dolls for my doorway, and expecting to freak out my neighbors back home in NC? Well *giggle* that's just about what I did! I tried to explain to them that it's like a gargoyle, meant to scare off negativity.

Here he is, keeping negativity away outside my front door, this very minute!

Lydia had a little lamb...well it's a goat, really

It's been several months since I posted new pictures, due to my scanner acting up, other projects, etc. etc. I know what excuses are like. In any case, I wanted to pick up the pace with something fun. I cannot remember exactly where we were in our trip, other than it was near Aurangabad, but I do recall that the group had stopped along the road at a chai stall (chai is sweet tea made with lot of milk...a nice caffeine kick in the pants to get you through until dinner).

I had to take a picture of the double-decker goat bus that was stopped there, too.

There were about five baby goats being transported in the cab of this truck. Although I was usually cautious around men on the road, this guy was very nice, and even though I wasn't able to speak his language...

...I trusted him enough to hand him my camera, so he could take what turned out to be a cute picture of me.

The baby goat was so sweet and docile, that I thought twice before handing it back. I did say, "My goat!" with a big smile and started to walk away (but how would I have gotten the goat through customs?!)...even if he didn't quite understand me, we all laughed at the joke.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Temple of Harsiddhi

Last time I promised you a tour of a temple dedicated to the Goddess, especially in the midst of all these ultra-masculine Shiva Lingums. This particular temple to the Divine Mother will probably always stay with me. Keep scrolling down, and maybe you'll get an idea why.

Although a small structure, this temple is filled with the Goddess in more ways than one!

This photo is so very valuable to me, because in it I can read all the fascinating historial particulars of Harsiddhi.

Behind the lion are the columns mentioned in the above description and the tank dating back to 1447.

This is the Shree Yantra mentioned in the plaque inscription. It is a geometric representation of the play of the Divine Mother or her Leela. It is in the center of the ceiling.

Harsiddhi glazes out sweetly. Hers is the orange face in the middle. This is a glipse into the temple's inner sanctum.

Painted images of the Goddess's myriade forms encircle the inner dome of the temple.

Garlands of fresh flowers are strung throughout the temple.

The form in the center of this photo looks rather Egyptian

The Goddess is often depicted mounted on grand beasts like lions, tigers, and elephants.

I hope you enjoyed the color and magic of the Harsiddhi Temple.

More soon.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Darshan, loosely translated, means "to see." But darshan in a Hindu temple is a two-way street: not only are you getting to see God, but God is getting to see you too!

In the West we typically relate to the Divine in our own physical image, especially through a God/Man, like Jesus Christ or the Heavenly Father. While in the East, God is also worshiped commonly in both male and female human forms, God is also venerated in other shapes, such as the Shiva Linga. Lingums are typically an oval-shaped form of the Universe, the Cosmic Egg, so to speak, which represents the Totality of the Divine.

Whether the devotee prefers to relate to God in a human form, a lingum, or even the formless are considered all equally valid approaches in Hinduism, and much Eastern thought, in general.

So with that brief explanation, allow me to take you inside the Jyotir Lingum temple at Mamaleshwar.

It is customary to ring the bells outside a temple entrance. Although I had not thought about it until now, it's kind of like God's doorbells, to let Him know you're coming inside.

The Shiva Lingum itself is that black stone in the middle of the copper platform. You'll notice the offering of bilva leaves, flowers, and some coconuts.

A copper pot of water is suspended above the lingum so that a drip of water is constantly offered.

The inner sanctum was a rather small space, and people had to split up in groups of about 7-10 to fit inside.

If you have any questions about these pictures, or anything else about my trip photos, please feel free to email me and I will answer your questions to the best of my understanding.

Next time I will take you inside a temple dedicated to the Divine Mother, to show you the contrast.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
The Twin Lingum Temples

Omkareshwar and Mamaleshwar are two parts of one Jyotir Lingum as I understand it. Mamaleshwar is on the mainland, and accessible year-round, even when the Omkareshwar island, home of the other half of the lingum, cannot be reached due to the flooding of the Narmada River.

Our group spent most of our time at this sacred place on the mainland side, since the Mamaleshwar temple could accommodate 3 dozen people. It was a rare opportunity for me to take a lot of photographs of the temple structure and its wonderful details, since time was required inside the temple for the individual pujas.

Childhood, married life, date with the hereafter...you get the idea.

Goddess forms that were venerated at some time, as indicated by the red and orange stains from kum kum and sandalwood powders.

A beautiful engaged sculpture of Lord Shiva vanquishing demons. Notice his mount, Nandi the bull, in the lower left hand corner of the picture.

More sculputral details of Nandi-esque bull's heads.

Nandi, Lord Shiva's vehicle, waits attentively at the door of this temple.

The gate entrance side of the temple must get the earliest morning light since it was in shades the entire time our group was there.

I believe I gave this temple Baba a few rupees. He gave me a nice picture in return!

From certain angles, this temple was very photographically dramatic.

This portion of the temple complex is not currently used for worship, but it remains a magnificent structure. Outside, I see a lion sculpture on the left, the vehicle of the Divine Mother Durga, and Nandi on the right, I can make the educated guess that both male and female aspects of the Divine were venerated here.

These are shrines for individual dieties, but I am not certain whether they are currently in regular use.

The Omkareshwar temple is the white structure in the middle of this picture.

I love this picture of the Omkareshwar shoreline on the other side of the Narmada River.

The group got into several boats and crossed over to the Omkareshwar island to see the other half of the Jyotir Lingum. The inner sanctum there was so tiny that only a small handful of people could squeeze their way in for a brief darshan. (Darshan means "to see and be seen" loosely speaking.)

You can see the boat landing in the lower right hand corner of this picture.

Another view of the Narmada from the mainland shore.

In the midst of the Narmada...

I think next time I post pictures, it will be your turn for darshan inside Mamaleshwar.