The Worst Journey Ever. The Best Vacation Ever.
On the 20th, we started our trip to Rameswaram. The 21st would be the one-year anniversary of my Grandmother’s death. We had to perform her last rites and we were going to do it at Rameswaram. Rameswaram is 12 hours away by car. So my dad, my mom, my uncle, my aunt, my grand-uncle, my grand-aunt and I settled in for the ride. The ride up there wasn’t all that bad, and before we knew it, we were there. Rameswaram isn’t much more than a little fishing village. It is also an island that is off the eastern coast of India, in the state of Tamil Nadu. Rameswaram has a legend behind it. The legend is that when Rama and Lakshmana returned from Lanka after killing Ravana, they had to perform a certain ritual to rid themselves of the curse (actually, dosham in Malayalam or Sanskrit) of killing a Brahmin. To do this, they had to perform a certain prayer to Lord Shiva. However, there was no Shiva Lingam available. So Rama asked Hanuman to fly to Mount Kailasa and secure some Lingams from Lord Shiva. Hanuman made his way to Mount Kailasa, but was unable to find Lord Shiva. So he sat down in meditation and prayed to Lord Shiva. Meanwhile, the appointed time for the prayer was drawing near and the Rishis (Sages) told Rama that he would have to perform the prayer soon. Rama’s wife Sita was playing with some sand on the shore of the beach, fashioning a Lingam out of the sand. The Rishis said that the sand Lingam would be sufficient for the prayer. So Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita prayed to get rid of the curse. At the end of the prayer, Hanuman arrived. He was able to get two Lingams from Shiva. When he saw that the prayer had already been completed, and that they already had a Lingam, he was a little disappointed. Rama told Hanuman that he was welcome to place the Shiva Lingam that he got from Mount Kailas in place of the sand Lingam, if he would be able to remove it. Hanuman tried his best, but was unable to budge the sand Lingam. Embarassed, he turned to Rama. Rama said that the two Lingams Hanuman brought from Mount Kailasa could be placed around the sand Lingam, and that worshippers would have to pray to stone Lingam first before praying to the sand Lingam. The temple itself is amazing. When you first enter the temple, you’re in a corridoor that goes all the way around the temple – so it’s in the shape of a rectangle. The corridoor is one formed of pillars – hundreds of them stretching into the distance. The architecture is absolutely amazing. I was in awe when I saw the intricate designs on the pillars, the beautiful carvings on the walls. I tried to imagine how it was when the temple was just getting built. I’d look at a sculpture and try to imagine the artisan or the sculpturer who carved it – what he was thinking as he carved it. I tried to imagine all the different kinds of people who walked by and stood in the same spot that I was standing now. I always feel like this when I go to any sort of historical site – or anything that is of great antiquity. The first evening, we went to the temple and prayed. Next morning, we went to perform the last rites for my Grandmother. This was done at this particular pond. We sat on the steps of the pond while a priest made us recite Sanskrit prayers. As I’ve grown older, the idea of having a priest to convey your prayers to God/Higher Power/Whathaveyou has always struck me as strange. Why do you need one? What’s the difference in the prayers you pray to God on your own, versus the one the priest does for you? As the priest was reciting the various mantras and having us perform different rituals, I wondered about their significance.
After the ritual, we made our way to the temple, where we made our way through 22 different “wells” (under-ground water sources forming a network under the temple. Some are freshwater, while others are saltwater). At each of these wells, our guide (yes, a guide through the temple) would take water and pour it over us. After that we went to the main altar, where the priest was supposed to say some prayers. But while he was doing it, he was also arguing with some other guy who was there. Also as it turned out, because we had paid the “Special Entrance Fee”, we could make it to the “Special Entry Area”, which was closer to the altar. What I’m trying to say is that, the whole deal at Rameswaram seemed to be more of a business than anything religious. I guess I was expecting some sort of serene experience, maybe something divine. At the very least, I expected the temple to be run like a temple – not a business. The whole deal with the “Special Entry Area” put me off. Basically it means that only those are willing or able to pay, can make it close to the altar. Not the others. As if God would care about how much money you have. I’ve had better experiences at the temples in my hometown. Well, after all that, we headed back home and made it back by about 10 at night. I stayed up for a little while chilling with my sister and with Dipu Cheta and Simi Chechi.