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perur pateeshwara

Travels & Other Escapades

A Dip in Sacred Waters….

March 7, 2022

A beautiful mural of 7 siddhas. In the temple in front of the Adi Yogi temple at the Isha Yoga Centre.

A dip in sacred waters is a mainstay of Indian civilisation, and it’s common to see people taking a dip in one of the numerous rivers in the country.  I never thought I’d actually do it myself one day…

Isha Yoga Center

Sowmya and I arrived at Isha Yoga centre early one morning, hoping to beat the usual crowds.  But the day we chose was only 4 days ahead of Maha Shivratri and the devout were up and they were about.  Hordes of selfies were being taken in front of the Adi Yogi.  It was only 8 am, but the places was bustling with activity.  A large stage was being constructed and barricades were being erected to keep the imminent crowds in check.  Announcements were blaring from the speakers.

The Adi Yogi statue is built of steel and placed on a raised platform and is visible as you enter the Isha Yoga centre.

In front of the Adi Yogi statue is a temple where daily homas are done.  We reached the temple as special morning prayers on account of Mahashivaratri were were being conducted.  We had a chance to sit around the fire listening to the chanting.  There is a metal lingam in the centre of this temple (several people were doing parikramas around it).  Coiled around the lingam are 5 metal serpents of various heights.  Behind is a beautiful mural of 7 siddhas.  Several people were doing the sashtanga namaskars in front of these statues and the lingam.

After about 10 minutes we got up and decided to walk further into the ashram.  Before entering into the grounds of the main ashram, we were asked to deposit our phones and other valuables (except our wallets) at the security.  We were also allowed to take our towels into the ashram, for which we were given a bag at the security.

Purification by Kunda

The Isha Yoga Centre has two kundas – water tanks for men and women to bathe in and thereby purify themselves.  The Surya kunda is for men and Chandra kunda is for the women.

To bathe in the kunda, you’ll be given ochre robes by the centre.  You will need to take a shower first.  I was hoping no one would notice that my hair was dry, but they did, and I was promptly sent back to the showers to rinse my hair.

The kunda is artfully designed.  As we descended the large stone steps, I was reminded of the Kamakhya temple.  Unlike the Kamakhya temple, the Chandra kunda is man-made and designed to be rustic yet elegant.  It is carefully cultivated class – a 5 star temple water tank – as Sowmya puts it.  Silence is mandatory here, and it seems to reverberate within the tastefully designed stone dome of the kunda, adding to the somber mood.  There is a small waterfall on one side and as I descended the metal stairs on one end, I felt the weight of the heavy silence closing in on me.  The kunda is windowless, and the cold water is about 4 feet deep.  There is a huge shivalingam in the centre – made of a stone base and a metal dome jutting out of the water.  We circumambulated the lingam in the water, savouring the resistance of the water on our relaxed limbs, the splashing sound soothing to the ears too.

 

Bhairavi Temple

Once we exited the Chandra kunda we decided to visit the Bhairavi Temple.  This too has a cave-like structure and early in the morning the sounds of the aarti and accompanying chanting were steadily reaching a crescendo.  The devotees were engrossed in their devotional practices, and there was no social distancing.  Not too keen to be a part of the melee we decided to exit.

 

Dhyana Lingam

We continued practicing our silence as we entered a doorway to get to the famed Dhyana Lingam.  On either side of the hallway leading to the Dhyana Lingam there are stone murals depicting various scenes from mythology about devotion.  Sowmya and I were happy to see a huge statue of Sage Patanjali.  The Dhyana Lingam is housed inside a huge dome shaped hall specially made for meditation.  The shivalingam stands tall and imposing in the center of this hall and is decorated with flowers.  There are squares compartments cut into the walls to sit and meditate in.  There is no artificial light here, and the style is similar to the Chandra kunda – stone, understated, elegant.  For a fee you can also light a lamp and offer rudraksha of various prices to the Dhyana lingam.

Sowmya and I found a square each and enjoyed some of the serenity for half an hour.

Tamarind Tree & The Nandi Bull

After a bit of shopping at the gift shop (I picked up their famous sambramani) and some breakfast (steaming hot idlis and some pongal), we decided to walk past the famous tamarind tree and the nandi in front of it.  The Nandi is five times the size of a real one, and made entirely of black stone.  The tamarind tree is covered with threads and other pieces of cloth (mostly fuchsia, red or black).  Those who complete the challenging Shivanga sadhana gain the privilege of tying these cloths/threads on this tamarind tree.  The Shivanga sadhana is a special 42 day sadhana that only the most devout can complete.  It is believed that our sweat contains our samskaras and when these are absorbed (along with our sweat) into the clothes we wear.  By tying these clothes around the branches of the tamarind tree, we rid ourselves of our samskaras.

 

The experience of the rituals and worship at Isha yoga differed so much from our experience at the Perur temple, just a few kilometres away.  It is said that there are as many beliefs as there are people in India.  Experiences like this one certainly gives us insight into just how complex, intricate  beliefs, culture and traditions can be.

 

 

 

 

Travels & Other Escapades

An Unexpectedly Remarkable Mahashivaratri Experience

March 2, 2022

Off duty priests.

Once I realised that deeper study of yoga needs a closer look at it in its cultural and traditional context, I started to consciously seek out yoga stories and connections in daily life in India.  In retrospect, I’ve been doing this ever since I started researching for my book ‘Beyond Asanas’.  Perhaps if I hadn’t been on this quest, I wouldn’t have had the unexpectedly special Mahashivaratri experience I had this past weekend…

Always Make Time for the Temples…

Sowmya and I reached the Perur Pateeshwara temple at 6 am.  This temple was built in the 2nd century and is one of oldest temples in the state of Tamil Nadu.  We assumed we’d be able to beat the crowds early in the morning, and were surprised at the number of buses on the road.  It finally dawned on us that these were the days leading up to Mahashivaratri and these crowds were probably headed to the Isha Yoga centre.

There is sufficient parking space outside the temple and you can park for Rs. 20/-.  We left our shoes in the car and took a bit of loose change with us for dakshina.

The temple has a huge towering entryway.  Once you enter you’ll see ancient pillars on either side of the hallway, with carvings on them.  These pillars are likely 500-700 years old.

There were many such carved murals of Shaiva siddhas at the Perur Pateeshwara temple. At first glance the large ears made me think about the Bahubali statue in Shravanabelagola, which also has large ears.

 

Shiva depicted during his tandav – the inspiration for this temple.

There is also a small Ganesh shrine in this area called the Patti Vinayagar.  The sanctum sanctorum of this temple contains a Shivalingam which is ‘swayambhu‘, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “self-manifested”, “self-existing”, or “that is created by its own accord”.  The shivalingam here was adorned with a white dhoti and bedecked with shiny stones which might be diamonds.  We did a quick darshan here and were handed the vibhuti.  The interesting thing about most of the temples I’ve visited in South India is that the priest will hand you the vibhuti and you apply it to your forehead yourself.  Perhaps the priests aren’t supposed to touch the temple visitors.

We managed to get a word with the chief priest in the sanctum sanctorum.  He told us about the legend of Kamadhenu grazing in this area and found the swayambhu Shiva.  It was decided by the kings of the time that this area should be made into gowshala.  That’s why the temple is called the Pateeshwara temple – Patee is the Tamil word for gowshala.  Happy that I could communicate with him in English, I asked him about the age of the temple and whether the entire temple complex was built at the same time.  He told us the sanctum sanctorum was oldest part of the temple and various kings had built other parts of the temple through the ages.  He also told us to watch out for the inscriptions on the temple walls – which record the details of the temple’s history.

The detailed inscriptions on the temple walls. These are in old Tamil script.

There are also statues of Shaiva siddhas along the walls made of black stone.  An interesting detail is the row of lingas following the siddhas statues, which ended with a statue of the Jnana Bhairavi.  There is also a shrine to Karthikeyan, the son of Shiva and Parvathi, and god of war.  Kartikeyan, or Murugan, is a popular deity in Tamil literature.

The Hall with the 108 Dance Mudras

Next we entered the hall where it is believed Shiva did his ananda tandav.  We looked for the peepul tree under which he supposedly danced, but were unable to find it.  This part was only about 500-700 years old and has 8 life sized statues of various deities in front of the sanctum sanctorum.  A priest was singing odes to Shiva and a microphone was carrying his soothing voice to all parts of the hall.  The ceiling has amazing painted murals, depicting different stories from Shiva mythology.  There were life-sized statues of Dwarpalakas guarding the sanctum sanctorum.

One of the dwarkapalakas. The pose reminds me of standing Marichiyasana, using his gadhayudha (mace) as a prop.

 

The 108 mudras of the tandav. These were mounted on the walls of the hall.

I’ve always been fascinated by the similarities between Indian classical dance and yogasanas, and spent quite a bit of time observing these postures.

 

A Literary Connection

There is also a shrine dedicated to the divine feminine (devi), called  Pachainayaki.  This is located in a hall with the usual carved pillars and also many paintings of female deities mounted on the walls.  Here the priest anointed us with a red tilak and didn’t seem to have a reticence in touching us.

Possibly the poetess saint Andal.

Once we were done, we decided to take a moment to sit and soak it all in.  We’d been in the temple for 2 hours now, examining the architecture and the finer details and studying the yoga connections.

Yogasanas on the Temple Walls

Not a yogasana, but we found this mural very interesting. The expression on the face reminded us of Santa Claus.

All in all a fortuitous visit, specially with Mahashivaratri just around the corner