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Chapter 4 – Undying yearning to imitate the Ultimate

The whispers of venkittu creates  a  whirlpool in my mind . I retire to a solitary corner in the long corridor of the temple, and wonder whether it is the same classmate whom I knew intimately, sitting in the last bench of the class, subdued and suffocated by the solid stone walls of superstitious prejudices?  ‘Sex is a sin’, I have heard from the seniors in my society. There are several Sanskrit verses and old stories to support that statement, mostly from those who have rejected sex or sex has rejected them . ‘Sex is a bliss’, is a popular version.  But no one has told me so far that sex is divine. In silent amazement when I heard that statement made in all sincerity by a friend whose marriage life was a failure and who is now under the vow of celibacy and leading a team of celibates, I begin pondering over it.

With a perturbed mind and peering eyes, I go around the corridors looking for similar erotic sculptures on the pillars and I  see a few of them scattered among the carvings depicting  gods in their glory, damsels in their beauty, saints in their sanctity, men, animals and birds  in their natural  elegancy. There was another woman in a similar posture but with a lion’s head and a third one along with a dog-like animal standing in between her legs, looking up eagerly.  A  statue of a man-woman pair balancing their body on the hands is also there, but all such so called ‘obscene’ carvings form only a negligent percentage of the total.

I have seen and enjoyed, in India and abroad, life like nude statues and paintings in museums and other places including places of worship. More than two thousand years ago, Greece and Italy popularized them and great sculptors and painters have exhibited their skill and expressed their emotion through their unparallel art works. “The kiss”, one of the most seductive pieces of Auguste Rodin, which translates in stone, the passion of a couple in union, which no other art form can depict so effectively. “The Venus de Milo”, the armless statue by an unknown sculptor , presumably belonging to second century BC , is on the top list of popular sculptors. The male nude statues of Michelangelo, striking in their expressive force and exhibiting the extraordinary knowledge anatomical science of the sculptor are breath taking. I was also fortunate to see his unforgettable paintings on the walls and the ceilings of the famous Sistine Chapel in Vatican. His statue of ‘David’ glorifies the human form, the master piece of the Master sculptor.

Human emotions & character are depicted with great understanding & skill in the mural paintings of .Ajantha and Ellora caves  and the temples of Khajuraho built in the tenth century contain stunningly explicit sexual sculptures.

In attempting to reproduce the most valuable gift of God as it was handed over to us, a painter or sculptor, enjoys immense happiness and try to make it as perfect as possible though he is aware of his limitation that he can never give it life. With regard to other creatures of the God, birds or animals, he can imitate them as they were born and therefore his artistic yearning for giving shape to a ‘symbol.’ close- to -original” takes wings in the form of  nude human figures.

But, why are they in a place of worship?


If our ancestors, in all their wisdom, chose to exhibit  some nude women figures at the entry and exit gates of the temple, there should be a purpose for that.
I am only attempting to know what it could be. Hope that you will not call me crazy.
Love and regards,

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Chapter 3 – Sex is divine, Sivaswamy!

It may be unnecessary and even unethical to probe into another man’s ( more so into another woman’s) personal life, but there is a pleasure in doing that which I enjoy, as I enjoy all good things in life.  It is therefore only natural that I became restless when my friend did say nothing about him, though we were meeting after decades. “ You are yet to tell me your story” I prompt him.

After collecting another one rupee per head as punishment dakshina, the  guruswamy, sends his team again to the  corridor near the flag post near the  eastern gate to repeat the chant. Noticing that I was observing his counting the coins, he asks, “you know where this money goes to?”
‘Into your wife’s wallet if she is intelligent  or into the Sabharimala hundi, if you are as innocent as you were as a college student” I do not want him to know that I doubt his integrity .
‘”No, to an orphanage” he clarifies.” Though my parents were outdated in their ideas and habits, they were kind enough to take care of my child. All the children discarded by their mother or father are not that lucky”.
‘Is this fellow divine or a fraud?” I ask myself again.
My curiosity to know about him increases and I ask him .”Your child was discarded by your wife?. Did you marry that black capsicum who used to spurt every time you go near her, like dry chilly pieces thrown into a pot of boiling oil? ”
“Unfortunately no” His eyes were moist . “It is OK, Venki, take it easy” I try to pacify him. “’If I shed tears for the girls who deserted me, there will be enough water here for Padmanabha and his entire celestial team to float”.
This is Venkittu’s life story as he told me, in brief:
Strangulated by the strictness of his ultra orthodox parents in observing customs and caste rules and crippled by the consequent isolation from the day to day world around, Venkittu , became  an introvert and sadist to some extent. An above-average student in the class, he failed in the degree exam twice (I failed just once and had an excuse for that), refused to make another attempt and left for Madras and married a girl of different caste working in the film industry.
After helping him to earn a fortune, status, and a child, she left to help another man to provide similar support.
When he returned home with the kid, his father screamed as expected, mother pretended to protest but wanted to keep the child with her. “Tholanju po- do as you like and get lost”- the old man told his wife , revealing his weakness albeit authoritatively, as all the husbands used to do in those days. His love for the son and grand child has overtaken his orthodoxy
“No need Appa!” The son did not want to accept the obligation easily. “ You will spoil my child too with your over-dosage of Brahminical beverage .
The old man, unable to understand how he had poisoned his son’s thoughts, acts and future by adhering to certain values inherited from his ancestors and ordained by the scriptures, now his conviction overtaking his affection, suggested politely but firmly, “Sarida, (it is OK with me). Get remarried or admit your child in an orphanage”
But Venkittu, having tasted married life, was afraid of handing over the kid to another woman, nor wanted his son to be labeled as an orphan while he was alive. The little one was lucky to have the care and affection of his grand parents and Venkittu left for his place of working.
The ayyappas are back after completing the assignment given by the guruswamy and he did not bother to ask them whether they felt the presence of God in their company. Instead, He asks  them  a question which shocked me.
“Did any one notice the colourful, meaningful  mural inscription on the walls of the sanctum, while mounting the steps for the Darshan ?’’’
“I didn’t, I didn’t” I volunteers to reply though I had seen the nude pictures and also knew that the question was not addressed to me.
My friend repeats the question, this time specifically facing his team and all of them, without a single exception, reply that propelled by the anxiety to see the God, they saw nothing around them , not even live men and women leave away the murals of the four women with no  cloth on them .
“That is a lie” I yelled, though I have no business to interfere
“Yes, you are right” Venki said and turning to his followers, chided them, “ayyappas are expected to say nothing but truth”
“Another one rupee per head?” I was anxious to know.
“Not now” the guruswamy replies and takes his followers to the corridor on the north side, and pointing his finger at a pillar close to the entrance to the shrine asks,
“Are you able to see that figure carved on the first pillar, next to the pathway, to your right?”
No one can miss it .
It is an erotic image of a young woman, with no clothes on, squatting on the floor with her legs wide opened, her long hands firmly pressed on the floor!
‘Atrocious! Unpardonable” I yelled pretending to close my eyes with my palms but viewing the natural beauty through the finger gaps ,
‘You, a revered guruswamy direct the other ayyappas to look at the image of a disrobed devil?”
“Sivaswamy!” He looked at my eyes with a smile and wanted to say something but I stopped.
‘I am not a swamy”
‘You are.” He was calm and his reply had clarity.
‘All are swamis for an ayyappa, once he takes a vow and wear the sacred mala’
‘Me too?” I could hardly believe that I could be one.
‘’You,as well as that image which you are watching through the corner of your eyes”
Before leaving , turning towards me, with a sincere smile on his face, Venkittu makes a simple statement which makes me speechless: “Sex is divine, Sivaswamy!”
Between you and me
I can understand your worry. I wanted to share the murmurs of the mild cold Onam- breeze, beyond the Valyar forests, with you and retire to my cocoon after penning a chapter or at the most two, but things are going out of control . Pray along with me to Sri.Ananthpadmanabhan not to make this story ‘anantham’ (endless) but make it ‘aanantha pradham- a divine experience . After all He is the ‘Jagadhanandha karaka- the source of absolute peace and utter happiness to the entire world”

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Chapter 2 – Is he divine or a man of deceit ?

Once again, I am before my Lord, Sri  Ananthapadmanabha,  Oh, what a majestic pose and what a royal look! I have stood like this several time before my Master, enjoying His grandeur  profile,  admiring the awesome ‘ananthsayanam’, the reclining posture on a multi-hooded mammoth snake, with the celestial consorts close by and surrounded by Devas and Rishies, saints and celestial luminaries . Every time I am rejuvenated, relaxed and long to wait in eternity in His royal court awaiting His orders
I remember the words of my father in law, who took me for Padmanabha’s  blessings direct from the wedding hall along with his daughter who had just became my wife:
“ When you worship Padmanabha remember that you are worshipping 10008 salagramams , bought with great religious fervor on elephants, from the banks of the river Gandhaki in Nepal. Those sacred stones are the base for the composition of the idol along with tons of gold. The admirable outside shape with a lustrous dark polished surface is generated with the help of an ayurvedic mix applied skillfully over the saligrama formulation strengthened  and complemented by sufficient quantity of gold. The medicinal mould called ‘ katu sarkara yogam’ was obviously an ingeniously conceived plan to avoid the prying eyes of the invaders who attacked the city and also to protect the idol from insects.  No ‘Abishekam’ is performed for the idol for which a separate golden idol is used.”
The sanctum is intentionally illumined moderately with dazzling oil lamps and the impact created by avoiding powerful mechanical devices is immense. It creates an ethereal aura and sublime ambience suited for concentration on the object of worship and facilitate meditation
The mammoth, eighteen feet long, majestic idol  aesthetically embellished with gold and stone has to be viewed through three doors .
Why three doors? I ask myself?  Is it to indicate the God’s Perennial status- ‘Adi, madhyantha rahitham’ as Swathi Thirunal sings? Or to emphasize that He is the ‘bootha, bhavaya, bhavath prabhu’-Master of past, present and future as the grandeur of Kuru clan ,Beeshma proclaims?  Is it to clarify that He is approachable through all the three ‘gunas’ or characters,  “sathwik, rajo and thamas”-saintly, human and satanic?. Or could it be an indication of the presence of all the three Gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva inside the sanctum?
Through the first gate, I see His head supported and hooded by the coiled mammoth serpent. The face is extremely attractive, with prominent nose, well chiseled ears, lovely long eyes and lavish hair lock and  forehead .The hands are long  with ornamented fingers, the right hanging down on the Sivalingam.
Through the middle gate, I see the long stem of lotus originating from His Nabhi or naval projecting on its flower the four -headed Brahma, the Lord of creation. The dazzling golden idol of Mahavishnu,  is in the center, tastefully decorated with flowers and ornaments and two colourful ‘ona vals’ ornamental swords offered by the devotees specially on the occasion of onam festival. The divine consorts are remain close to their Lord
Through the third gate, I see the lower portion of the body, the legs covered with colourful silk clothes and the feet and toes adorned by flower garlands, where Archana is performed. “Brahma kadikina padamu, Brhamamuda na nee padamu”- unknowingly flows the immortal song of Annamacharya from  my lips.
The shining huge idol is a black beauty.  Every limb has its own prominence and attraction and the overhaul appeal is awesome.. In Guruvayoor, I am tempted to embrace the small idol of Unnikrishnan, whereas here, I would prefer to stand at a distance with closed palms and view with awe and respect the divine charm in a reclining posture, enjoy the sculptured melody and experience immeasurable mental peace and spiritual solace.
While accepting the prasadam, ‘raktha chandanam’ or red sandalwood paste along with thulasi leaves, on a cut plantain leaf offered by the Nambudiri standing near the feet of the deity, I sing spontaneously, ‘Bhogeendra sayinam’ that immortal creation of Maharaja Swathy Thirunal. How lucky the royal composer cum singer was to sing his own krithy, the song penned by him, before his favorite deity!
“Give a nano gram of your strength and swiftness, vigor and vitality !” I plead to the dazzling majestic  Narsimhamoorthy, the incarnation of man cum animal manifestation, symbolizing the true nature of humans ( and to some extend, animals too?), seated at the southern entrance to inner shrine of Sri. Padmanabaha. The great Sankaracharya could say that more beautifully, more precisely and more poetically.“Give me your hand, God! ‘Lakshmi Nrismha mama dehi karavalambham.”
While coming out, comes across a familiar face with powerful eyes, attired in an unfamiliar style and followed by a big group of Ayyappa devotees. Despite his dark dress and dangling rosaries over the spacious tummy, I could locate my class mate. I  wanted to shout, ‘Adea Viddi Venkittu’ but control my temptation to address him as a fool as we used to do in the school, chiding his orthodox ways and over enthusiastic exhibition of caste symbols and other ‘appavithanam’, foolish behavior in the class, but control my temptation considering the sanctity of the place and his attire.
“ Swamy saranam; follow me ayyappas”, he instructs others, “ Keep apart one rupee as guru dakshina, form groups of three and silently (!) do saranam vili ( chanting  God’s name). I will join you shortly”
“You want me too join them and pay you the fees?” I ask him.
“ No” . Holding my hands he leads me  to the small parapet wall bordering the ‘prakaram’(outer corridor)
“Tell about you.” He asks for my life story, “from the day I absconded”. I brief him.
His followers come and hand over the coins they had earmarked for the ‘guru swamy’ but complain that they could not form the group of three as they were short of one person.
“What a pity!” The guruswamy expresses his disappointment and chide the followers. “ Why did you not take  Lord Ayyappa as the third partner? Despite following me to the holy shrine for many years, you have not attained the stage where you could feel the presence of the God at every step, along with you”.
I was awestruck. Is he divine or a man of  deceit?

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Chapter 1 – A visual delight

AH,  what a memorable experience it was, being in Kerala during the Onam festival!
The trip for enjoying the Onam feast with my mother-in-law and kathakali, music and other cultural shows ( without her ) was pre-planned but my landing in Thiruvanthapuram on the concluding  day of Maharudra yagnam in the Sreekanteswarm temple, opposite to her house, was providential. Chanting rudram and Chamakam along with the learned Nambudiries in the morning and Lalithsahasranamam during the Bagavathy seva in the evening was enjoyable for me and hope for the God too, as I know that He will overlook the incompatibility of my harsh tone with the musical modulations  of the group recitation. I also enjoyed the poornahuthi, the final part of the yagnam, where only ghee was poured into the leaping tongues of the fire god and not bundles of kancheepuram silk saris or basketsful of costly fruits. Sreekanteswaran would have appreciated this act as for the past eleven days, the priests were asking for all sort of things under the Sun, while repeatedly chanting ‘Chamkam’  and it makes no sense to burn large quantities of eatables and wearable in the belief of pleasing the Gods. The God  knows the value of food items. The Nambudiries also know that ; that is why they perform the ‘Utchapooja neivedyam’, mid-day offering, on a clean plantain leaf, just the required  quantity of eatables, rice , currys, pickles etc( eight items) and soon after the worship offer that to a Brahmin. Along with him all the devotees who are present in the temple are offered food and this goes on every day.
I do not know how many of you have visited the Sreekanteswarm  temple. Dedicated to Lord Siva. This small temple ( compared to the vadakkunath temple in Trichur or Mahadeva temple in Vaikom) with a dominating golden flag staff and dedicated daily rituals attract numerable local devotees although many outsiders skip its unaware of its presence, after visiting the landmark  Padmanabha temple. Poojas are performed strictly as per the thanthrik style of Agmasastras  with utmost devotion and sincerity. When the women devotees, with moist eyes and palms on their chest, call Him, “ente Sreekanteswara!), how small I feel with all my chanting of mantras and what not!
From there I go through the eastern gate, to the  Durga temple maintained by the Brhamana sammooham on which I have already published a write-up in this forum and then to the Mahaganapathy temple close by and sing my ‘ Arasum moodu Ganapathy mamapathy’ pattu or prayer song, loudly without worrying how  the curious men and women tolerated my verbal onslaught . I sang for solely for myself  and I am sure that Mahganapathy  too would have liked it, as He is the source for the evolution of the spiritual spring within me.
About 100 meters away, is the  famous sri.Ananthapadmanabha swamy temple,one of the 108 divyasthal or holy place, for Vishnu, standing majestically with a 100 feet, seven tier gopuram, by the side of the pond named padma theertham (lotus spring). Unlike other temple towers in Tamilnadu  and  else where, the gopuram here is not unintentionally vandalized by applying paints of different shades but the massive structure, an architectural marvel full of aesthetically carved sculptures deserve better maintenance. How the west would have maintained such immovable and irreproducible structural assets, had those been on their land( and collected a huge sum as visiting fee!)!
The ground floor under the gopuram (main entrance in the eastern side) is known as the ‘Nataka Sala’ where  Kathakali is staged in the night during the ten-day uthsavam (festival) conducted twice a year, during the Malayalam months of Meenam and Thulam. The corridor inside,  extends to the sanctum sanctorum, and in the center is the eight foot tall, gold covered flag shaft after which are the huge statues of Anjaneya and Garuda on either side facing the sanctum and then the statues of dwarpalkas, gate-keepers, large and equally attractive. To the left is a treasure house of granite pillars some producing musical notes  and all carrying fascinating carvings. There are four gates to the temple, the pathways paved with granite slabs leading to the long corridors, outer prakaram, with granite pillars with splendid sculptures carved on each of them. The space around is covered with snow white river sand, evenly spread and maintained neatly.

I enter the gold-covered granite pillar-supported gracious mantapam, in front of the sanctum, where only the Maharaja of Travancore, who ruled the state as His dasa or servant, is allowed to prostrate.

What a visual delight is this! Could there be another Onasdya, onam feast better than this?(including my mamiyar’s-mother in-law’s?)