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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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.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003
A little bit of old Bombay

In going through the pictures I want to show you, I like to alternate between temple shots and street scenes, so as not to bore you.

Mumbai, or Bombay, might evoke images of the wonder old of India. As New York is our mecca of American culture, so is Bombay the cultural heart of India.

Mumbai is on the Arabian Sea. I was shooting this picture from the old wing of the Taj Hotel, a very famous establishment in Bombay. Even though I was shooting into the sun, I think the results were interesting. I have some black & white versions of this image that I am looking forward to printing up soon.

Another shot out a hotel window. This is a classic structure, the gate of Bombay, but I was shooting film from an odd angle.

The new wing of the Taj is the where you'd find the modern glamour, but there is definitely some charm of a by-gone era in this image of the staircase in the old wing of the hotel.

Being on foot in the market area of Bombay is like being in New York, in that you really always need to be on the go. I was never afraid of being on my own, but I knew I had to keep moving, or get run down. Shooting pictures here was almost impossible if I was going to try and shop too, which I did.

After I shot this picture, I think my camera stayed in my backpack for the rest of the day.

A shot on the street, not far from the Taj Hotel.

I believe I just found the AMEX office to cash travelers' checks when I took this picture.

More soon!

Thursday, February 06, 2003
The True Jyotir Lingum

O.K. So all this business about "will the real Jyotir Lingum please stand up" does confuse me. At Somanath, for instance, the original lingum was lost to Mughal invaders, as I understand it. The new large temple was built in the 1960s. Someone with the resources was divinely inspired to rebuild the temple, leading me to believe that Jyotir Lingums are as much about location as they are about the actual object of worship.

The large seemingly main temple was one of those places where security was so tight that I could not take my camera inside the gates, which was frustrating.

However, very near the big temple was a small temple (see in the following pictures) where a lingum that we could actually do puja to lived. In stark contrast to the security guards, metal detectors, and distant pujaris, this temple was run by a team of charismatic young temple priests who were extremely helpful, seemed to enjoy having us visit, and had lovely chanting voices! No one minded me taking pictures at all, so I got excited and ran through severals rolls of film here with nice results.

This was a rather small temple, with most of the action taking place in a lower level chamber (to the right in this picture). I was shooting with a 24mm wide angle lens, which accounts for the distortion in some of these pictures.

I really love this picture, where the architectural details of this modest, but at the same time exquisite, structure come together.

This image is another winner to me, and I am my own worst critic. It was one of my alternative choices to enter into the Everyman Photo contest.

Pulling back away from the columns, and shooting with my wide angle lens, gives some additional visual clues about how the temple was situated.

Image the lotus-dome as the central point of the temple, and walk around the grounds with me in your mind.

I am not brave enough to climb that ladder!

If you draw your attention to the lower left-hand portion of this picture you can see the stairs going down to the sanctuary part of the temple.

These nice young pujaris chanted the Rudrum, a long hymn to Lord Shiva, for us.

The guy in the back, standing and holding a book, was especially helpful to me personally while I was doing my part of the puja downstairs. He seemed impressed that I sort of knew what I was doing, and guided me along so I could keep up with the process.

I really did find all of these young men appealing (but the one toward the middle obviously did not love having his picture taken).

Right in the middle of this picture, off in the distance, you can see the large Somanath temple that I mentioned above.

Orange flags are flown to designate a Hindu place of worship.

I took quite a few black-n-white pictures of the large temple, so I should be able to show you those in the future.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003
Motorcycle Madness

If you've been following my India blog, you'll remember me talking about all the motorcycles in India. Bikes, of every sort, are clearly the vehicle of choice, probably because they are relatively affordable. I think a new motorcycle runs about $500. Quite a chunk of change when the average per capita income in India (according to the 2002 World Almanac) is $1800. If I was going to go to India and stay for any length of time, though, I would purchase one. I might even buy a helmet to go with it!

These pictures were taken at a railroad crossing outside of Rajkot in Gujarat. I believe we were on our way to the Somnath Temple that day.

Look for the train!

Those are pretty spiffy bikes, but some of those guys look a little chilled. As I recall it was a cold December morning in that part of India. No parkas, but lots of sweaters and hats.

The crossing gates are down!

Your choice: two or four wheels.

Notice that NONE of these guys has a helmet. Many don't even have eye protection.

That train was moving pretty fast, and I am surprised this picture was at all in focus!

Don't ask me what the guy in the middle has all strapped to his scooter, but isn't that the universal symbol for nuclear waste?!

A motorcyclists view of the road!

Monday, February 03, 2003
Meenakshi Temple Tour

The ceiling paintings that you may have seen from my last blog entry come from inside the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. This temple fortress, dedicated to the Divine Mother, is of great historical significance. I could spend hours telling you about it, but once again, I just rather show you my pictures.

There are four "Gopurams" in each of the cardinal directions. I think of them as mountains of gods.

The red & white striped paint-job is fairly common in these South Indian temples.

These are just the outer courtyard areas of the temple. Many shrines to specific deities are given individual homes inside, throughout this sprawling maze. Photography was not permitted deep inside the complex.

Ganesh, overcomer of obstacles. Definitely one of my very favorites!