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Spirituality
Narmada Parikrama
by Julia Dutta

Rows of drawers, intersected by tables and chairs, fill my dream screen. I open one and taking off my diamond earrings from my ears, place them inside one of these drawers, taking care that it is at the bottom of the drawer, underneath some papers. When I come to look for it later, I am unable to locate the exact drawer in which I have placed it. I look all over the place, even take help of my colleague, but I cannot find the ring.

I give up knowing it will be impossible for me to find it, in these rows upon rows of drawers, since I cannot tell in exactly which one I have placed the earring.

I am also aware that even if someone else has found it quite by mistake, they will have taken it. In other words, I have lost my diamond earrings to someone else. I touch my ear lobes and yes, it is not there. 

On his parikrama of the Narmada, Swami Buddhananda comes across a poor couple living in a thatched house. As all people are, all along the route, they are very keen to feed the yatris, the pilgrims. On a parikrama of the Narmada, no food, or money, no extra clothing are allowed to be taken along. One has to live in total surrender to Narmade Mata to provide whatever is needed. The poor couple are unsure weather the Swami will finally eat food prepared by them. The Swami agrees to accept their offer. A meal is prepared and with great shraddha, Swami ji is fed. After he has partaken of the food, he gets to know that the poor couple are Muslims.

Swami Buddhananda, born to a very religious Brahmin family from Karnataka, gave up his worldly ego-cantered life to pursue a God-cantered life while still in his youth and from being a bramacharya, he was ordained into sanyassa after many years under the vigilant eyes of his Guru.

For a second, just for a few moments, Swami ji is a bit shaken. Has he now polluted his superior birth as a Brahmin by eating food cooked by a Muslim, that too on a holy mission like, Narmada Parikrama? But he is in a fix only for those moments; it quickly dawns to him, he is a Sannyasi and a sannyasi has no caste; no creed, he is beyond it all. He drops the idea and moves on with gratitude in his heart for the poor couple who so lovingly fed him with a meal.

In both the cases above, there is a holding on to something forever. In my dream, the diamonds which is associated with "forever" and in the case of the Swami, his caste, Brahmin, something he is born as and dies with and is forever a part of his life. However, in both cases, that which is "forever, is left behind.

Freudian Interpretation of dream

The rows of drawers are the different compartments of my mind. In some part of my mind I have stored, even hidden "something" - a feeling, incident, whatever. It is a precious gem of a memory , a something I associate with forever. However, for whatever reason, I have now lost it. I am unable to find it. It is something that has been dropped from my mind - that something, someone - I associated with the concept of forever, I have lost and most probably it has been found by someone else. I do not know the new owners, nor am I concerned. I drop the idea of trying to find what I thought to be forever mine.

Whether it a diamond or our caste, anything we hold to be permanent in our lives is only transitory. There is no way to hold on to things, they come, on a visit, they pass as they will. This is the river of life, this is the journey, the parikrama, people come, people go, things belong to us for a few moments, then we lose them or they change hand; this is our journey, the parikrama, with many people and things. But all are only visitors and just as surely as they came, they will also go. So are we to hold on to that which has passed. Even if we try, we cannot. It is not with us anymore. It has already gone.

A often quoted story in Buddhist circles is about these two monks who are on their way from one village to another and come across a river. They have to cross the river. It is getting late in the day, and they see that an old lady is also standing on the banks waiting to cross and she needs to be helped. The monks are in a fix. As monks they are forbidden from even look at a woman of any age, leave alone touch her. But one of the monks decides that he is not going to leave the aged woman on this bank and cross himself. He carries the woman on his shoulder and crosses the river. On arriving on the other side, he puts her down and continues on his way to the hermitage with the other monk. On arrival, the first monk relates to the others how the second monk had carried a woman on his shoulder thereby breaking his monastic vow.

The second monk listened to the first relating the story. Then he turns to him and says, " I have left the woman on the bank long ago, but you are still carrying her in your head."

The story is the same about everything in life; when something has completed it's purpose in our lives it either drops out, or we drop it from our minds. There is no need to look back again. What has been left behind has ceased to be ours.

Forever.

~*~

We are on the Ganga, mid-stream, sitting in a boat that is full of people. It is dusk. The air is heavy with sounds from the temples around. Conches, bells fill the air. In front of us the entire ghat is covered with people, waiting for the Ganga aarti. Behind us, as the golden sun is gradually receding behind the horizon, the two burning ghats on either side of the river, Manikarnika and Harishchandra throw orange flames into the sky. At the same time, the pujaris begin the Ganga aarti. Huge lamps burn and deafening sound of bhajans fill the air. We watch spell bound � can there ever be such a beautiful sight on earth which at one and the same time portrays the entire gamut of human life on earth? On the one hand, the rising diya, a symbol of life and on the other, the receding sun and then the burning ghats. I sit transfixed in the moment. My grandmother died in Benaras. My surrogate father died in Benaras. I too will die in Benaras�..Suddenly the scene changes and I see my partner at a Police Station. I am lost. She is looking for me. The policeman says, why are you looking for her? It is so good that she has got lost in Benaras�I wake up from my dream, a little dazed.

On his parikrama of the Narmada, Swami Buddhananda passes through many jungles and has to rely on local help to sometimes find his way. Somehow, even before he asks for the help, someone comes along and helps. Swami ji is ever grateful to so many pilgrims he passes by and so many people who are poor villagers who come to his help, with food, medicine, and guidance. Throughout the parikrama, at no point are the pilgrims allowed to cross the river Narmada. They have to walk around the river if ever she comes on their way. Therefore, when Swami Buddhananda comes across three canals close to Baruch where Narmada meets the sea, he is confused as to which is Narmada. He waits for an answer. No one is around. Suddenly, from the blue, a young cowherd boy comes along and he tells Swami ji which out of these three canals is the Narmada. Swami ji goes around it and moves on in his journey.

Freudian Interpretation of dream

In my dream, Ganga represents life and life after. I am sitting in the boat, the boat which is this earth. All the people in the boat are also fellow travellers on this journey. There is the vision of life in the burning diyas in front of me and there is the vision of a receding sun behind me. I see the burning ghats on either side. Death, here causes me no fear. It is the death of a part of me and the birth of another. The diyas are a spiritual symbol, it is the birth of a spiritual self, and the death of a ego-self I allow and see recede like the setting sun. The enquiry at the police station � a symbol of authority confirms that I am lost to the life I have known, for the life I now embrace, a life I am lost in, the life of a spiritual traveller. Lost in Benaras, is only a symbol of waking up to a spiritual life, a life akin to my Higher Self.

Whether it is finding your way around the Narmada or losing your way in Benaras, the events of our lives will carry us to where we are supposed to go. Someone, somewhere, will facilitate that process and we will be lead, in spite of ourselves into that path. Thus, it is better to surrender to the Will of the Higher Power within us, whether we call it God, existence, whatever. It is easier to flow with the stream than to swim against it. In that state, we are in a let go. We are not fighting with the laws on nature, our nature, and our swabhava.

A Sufi Master lived in his little hut by the river. One day, a woman he did not know or had ever seen came and left a baby at his door and then she went away. The Sufi Master, who had never ever had to look after children, was left with no choice but to look after this child left in his custody. He took on to doing that, thinking that the mother would come and take the child sometime later during the day. But the mother never came. Not today, not tomorrow, not day after. Years passed and the child grew into a lovely girl of thirteen. Now in the hut there were two people who lived � the Sufi Master and this girl. One day a woman came, with tattered clothes and asked the Sufi Master for the girl she had left with him many years ago. The Sufi Master asked the young girl to come. Seeing the girl, the woman burst into bouts of loving adoration � � My child� she said, � I have come to take you. Come with me�. And just as she had left the child with the Sufi Master without giving any explanations, she also took the child away without giving the Sufi Master any explanations. Not even a thank you. Nothing changed for the Master. Just as he had not had any child around him at the beginning; he had none now. So he just carried on with his life as he used to. Never a regret, never a question. He was in the flow of things � if someone came and left something for him, it was with him; when they came and took it away, he just let it go.

The story is the same about everything in life; when we are ready to move into the next groove in our lives, we simply must go with the flow. There is no need to look back again. Just let go and go with the flow.

Always.

~*~

Subbamma was born to traditional Brahmin family in Tamil Nadu with a major problem. She had no hair on her head. And it never grew throughout her life. After the passing away of her parents, Subbamma joined the order of the nuns. The terrible shame with which she had lived in her small village where they nick named her "mottai" � the bald one, had come to an end. Here she was in the midst of men and women, all with shaven heads. Subbamma was at peace at last. However, the recurring dream she had from her early childhood never left her. In the dream, she always saw herself with long, jet-black hair being pursued by a nai � a barber, who came menacingly, with a pair of scissors, to cut her hair off. Subbamma found herself running away from him as fast as her legs could carry, but invariably, he would catch up with her, and just at that moment, her heart racing, Subbamma would wake up. Her hand would go to her head and she would remember for the " n"th time, that she had never had any hair on her head in the first place.

On the Narmada Parikrama, one has to pass through a place called Shulpaneshwar ki Jhari. The importance of this place dates back to the Mahabharata, when the Pandavas returning victoriously from Kurukshetra were interjected in Shulpanewswar by the Bhils, a tribe living there, lead by Eklavya *. They were ripped off all their belongings and all the loot. It is now a ritual that anyone going on a Narmada Parikrama has to pass through this place. Here, the pilgrims are again stripped of all their belongings, leaving them with the bare minimum to carry on till they receive the grace and dana from someone else. Unfortunately, today due to the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the entire area along with the Shulpaneshwar Temple has gone under water, forcing the pilgrims to take a circuitous route to continue on their journey.

Fortunately, when Swami Brahmananda did the Narmada Parikrama, Shulpaneshwar was very much there. Travelling with Swami ji was a man from Gujarat. On his neck, he wore a thick gold chain, which his son had presented him with. He was naturally very attached to it. This Gujrati man was aware that the tribes do not touch any of the puja samagri. Therefore, he put his gold chain in the kamandalu (small jug) containing water from the Narmada. When they were interjected, he told the Bhils not to touch his kamandalu. Of course, that caused suspicion among the Bhils, since anyway the kamandalu is taken among the puja samagri and they would not have touched it normally. Instead, now, they grabbed it from him and there, at the bottom lay the gold chain. The man lost the gold chain to the Bhils. His kamandalu was returned to him and he had to proceed on his journey.

In both the cases above, there is an effort to hold on to something that is not there in the first place, like Subbamma's effort to hold on to hair on her head, which in fact she has only in her dream and never in reality. Or the Gujrati man holding on to the gold necklace, which has been acquired and is not something, that has always been there from the time of his birth.

Freudian Interpretation of Dreams

Subbamma's hair is akin to the social norm that women must have long black hair to be acceptable and feel beautiful. Therefore she craves social acceptance in her dream where she sees herself as a woman with long jet black her. The black in the hair is symbolic of something hidden, something concealed, a secret she guards. But since that secret is based on a false assumption, she battles with her conscience, to keep her desire to see herself as a woman with long hair. And fails. In her world of dreams, she at least has one of the important elements that give her recognition and approval of being in the body a woman, with long, jet-black hair. It is as if she is negotiating with two persons within herself. One, her social being, the other is the nai � the barber, her own reality, which stands for Truth. Truth overrides falsity. She always wakes up to realize that, what she is afraid to lose, has never been hers in the first place.

We are what we think we are. We are what society wants us to believe is our identity. We are seekers of approval as long as we live in society.

Even when we change our set of circumstances and follow another social group, like changing over to join a spiritual order, we are hounded by what was imposed upon us, norms from our lives, before sannyas. Additionally, in time, we also generate a different set of norms that we must follow in order to be acceptable in the new social group. And in both states we are forever, trying to hold on to things that are not essential to that life, because we have attached or society has taught us to attach value to some things. Whether, it is the non-existent hair on Subbamma's head, or the thick gold chain on the Gujrati man�s neck, all is superficial and redundant to life itself. Truth cannot be concealed.

The Self has no hair. It wears no clothes. It cannot be adorned with jewels. It is naked of all falsities, all lies and all belief systems. Self is Truth. And it cannot be labelled or structured to fit into our concepts of how things must look or be. It is colourless. Without odour. Without speech. It is  �

Our Original Face.

* Eklavya was that poor boy who learnt archery all by himself. Dronacharya, the Great Teacher of the Pandavas, of the royal family to with Arjun belonged, was his student. Since Eklavya was a poor tribal boy, he was refused any teaching or training from Dronacharya. The story goes that Eklavya made an image of his Master, Dronacharya and leant the fine art of archery all by himself. He later went to Dronacharya and as Gurudakshina, Dronacharya asked for the thumb of his right hand, making it then impossible for Eklavya to ever fight a battle and win.  

June 30, 2007

Image under license with Gettyimages.com

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