By Sharon St Joan
There was not always mist in Kumbakonam, on most days it was clear, but on the mornings when there was mist, it lay over the ground, over the rice paddies extending to the horizon; the mist lay entwined around the trees, it spilled over the waterways in ethereal clouds, shrouding the past and the present, veiling all the mysteries of this world and the worlds beyond.
Above, a tower rose next to a house, shrouded in mist. People walked along the narrow road; there were no cars then, but people walked, and carts were pulled by bullocks. The people’s lives took place on many levels, shrouded by magic that swirled like the mist, coming and going – intertwined on many levels of reality; some levels were heavenly, and some were hellish, depending on one’s karma — or on the stillness or agitation present in one’s head. But there was a peace that lay over the land like the mist, never too far away. Always hovering just above, and not impossible to reach if one really tried. A peace that grew in the trees, in the plants, in the wild birds, the animals, and the rivers. A peace that lived in the moon, in the sky, in the clouds, and in the presence of the Gods who watched and moved across the layers of the heavens among the mountains of the skies, and the earth beings below who dwelled in the sacred ground.
A peace that was to be scattered and disrupted centuries later by the chaos of cars and trucks zipping this way and that, broken by the blaring of horns and discordant music, by the noise and rushing of foreign armies and foreign thoughts bringing greed and terror, and assaulting the order that had been meant to be, that took over the kingdoms of the air and the minds of human beings.
Before all this happened, there had been simplicity and harmony. Then all life was encircled in the same ring, all connected – the cows and the deer, the eagles and the vultures, the snakes and the river dolphins, and the humans who walked on foot along the dirt roads, on the pathways of time, among the stories and the realities expressed in the myths handed down through generations. Many kinds of beings lived at that time, from the yakshas, who were the spirits of the trees, to the races of those who were not human, who lived in other dimensions that crisscrossed the forests and the hilltops, sometimes seen and sometimes gone, elusive as the sparkling rain in the sunshine.
Yet, even among all the broken, shredded strands of history, an unbroken thread runs still; while it may be denied, rejected and belittled, it is not gone. It is an unbreakable tie, and it links the essence of India to the farthest beginning, to the very source of the cosmos, the eternal ground of all being, which is born and reborn, ever changing and ever the same, the oneness beyond all the realms of existence and non-existence. An unbroken line to the truth remains.
Even in these modern times many young people remain faithful to the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Some years ago, a young girl, A. Kala, got up early every morning. She lived in a green house which stands quite near the temple at Alangudi, near Kumbakonam. Each morning when it was barely light, she got on her bicycle and rode for over an hour into Kumbakonam to attend school. After a long day studying she rode back home, but her day was not over yet. There was no electricity in the house, so every evening she went to the temple, and, by the flickering light of the small votive fires lit by devotees, she did her homework, with great perseverance. Her father was the Village Headmaster. She went on to get her Masters in Commerce and a Batchelor’s in Education; she married and moved to Madras. Today, A. Kala is much trusted and relied upon as the Assistant Director for Accounts and Administration at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation.
Kubakonam means “site of the sacred vessel.” At the end of every age, Shiva, because of the corruption to which the world has descended, destroys the earth. At the conclusion of the last age before this one, as enormous waves rolled over the earth, sweeping away all that lay before them, a kumba (which means a pot, a vessel, a jar, a container, or a sacred vase) was carried along on the giant waves. Within the kumba, placed inside it by Shiva and mixed together with sand were the seeds of immortality of every living being. As decreed by Shiva, when the inundation subsided and all the oceans quieted down, the kumba came to rest at a pre-ordained spot, now in the city of Kumbakonam. Then Shiva shot the kumba with an arrow, which broke the pot, releasing and scattering all the seeds of immortality, which landed in the various sacred sites around Kumbakonam, where temples were later constructed. The most sacred site is the temple that stands today as Adi Kumbeswaram, the Original Lord of the Kumba, where the kumba settled after the floods.
This is one of the most sacred abodes of Lord Shiva and his wife, who is known as Mangalambika, which means “born of the mango of well-being.” It is a place of transcendent peace.
© Sharon St Joan, 2015
Top photo: © Shariqkhan / Dreamstime.com
Second photo: Sharon St. Joan
Third photo: © Alisali / Dreastime.com