Wednesday, December 31, 2008

India*4 -Meanderings with Baba Saravanan

"Surrender" is perhaps an apt description of the best state of mind to maintain while being led around South India (Tamil Nadu) by a holy man who has renounced worldly possessions. Trust in the universe and acute awareness of intuition are also helpful tools to posses (not to mention a sense of humor). I had met Saravan one day at a shrine on the holy mountain of Arunachala in Tiruvannamalai, and then the next day bumped into him at the main temple, and then it turned out he was staying at the same ashram I was. This tiny man's face seemed to be made up of deep brown eyes, and a jolly smile, hidden behind a massive beard. His spirit seemed kind, and through several conversations of broken English I gathered he wanted to show me around different holy sites. Not as a tour guide mind you, just as a duty, and because he knew I was an artist and wanted to share with me the beauty of his country. After a few days of hesitation, I accepted the magic carpet that the universe had materialized for me.

The first morning of our voyage via public bus I was rewarded with green rice fields and palm trees un-scrolling with the wind...we were headed to his ashram in his home village, a place he referred to several times as "home protection." I figured this was a good way to start the journey...with some kind of blessing. After several bus changes we arrived in some little town where we borrowed a motorscooter from some repair shop and headed down the main road, further and further away from clusters of shops and the cacophony of human intersections, toward and then into the agricultural back roads, and then dirt roads...till he eventually tells me to turn into a plot of land with several mounds of gravel (on one an old man sat, hammering larger rocks into smaller ones), and the foundation of a home under construction shaded by palm trees and snuggling with rice fields. I wondered what this stop was we were making on the way to his ashram.

We walked around the one structural element built on the foundation, and he pulled back the plastic canvas that served as the door/4th wall of the rectangular brick structure. There was a metal bed frame with a wooden mattress at the front, and then tools and stacks and stacks of what would serve as window and door frames for the future structure filling the rest of the space. "This my ashram" he says to me. Uhhhhhh..... my mind thinks.... and a smile of surrender spreads across my face, as I realize there is no way out of spending the first night of our journey there and I just have to give in to what is. It turns out what I understood as "protection" was really "production," and I realized I was in for an interesting adventure....

Before the day ended we drove to some backroads 1400 year old back road shrine, care taken by a disabled teenage monk, whose curved spine and hip looked like Shiva the lord of dance in his most exquisite pose. Flowers laced listening to Om echoes in ancient stone we caught peach sunset dissolving like sugar into horizon, and back up the next morning after night of little sleep and much observation of geko gangs. Slow living out there in the green fields..naturally unfolding daily..clone Gauguin a hundred time and unleash them into the nature of Tamil Nadu to fill museums for eternity...mob of school boys squealing with joy as I pull out a camera to photograph them...day long bus trip to Chidabaram in time to observe night time coo-coo-clock prayer rituals of rotating priests on stone stage revolving fires down dark shaft with flower laced deity at end, giving glows like coal engine of spirit train. Devotes below going mad a curtain is pulled and carnivalesque monk jazz of drums, cymbals, trumpets and bells ignite the crowd into a frenzy of hands in prayer...ashram floor as bed, and next day back on the buses...giant multi armed red gods with moustaches cracking with time in dusty cricket field...thousand year old thatch huts reborn...Ganesh shrines next to polluted lotus ponds...saddhu compass leading to more temples off the map...

Third day we ended up in an abandoned yet operational sprawling temple complex/ashram with a lineage of gurus that went back to the 1200s...grass and moss grew over the cobble stone courtyards which would have normally been stomped out by Pilgrims and elephants...I was left to wander through the quiet and peaceful courtyards...exploring the inner dark labyrinth, seeping with fermenting bat piss, and lion dragons frozen atop every pillar that put to rest any notion of Greco-Roman dominance of that art form...too blissed in just "being" there that I have no inspiration to do sketches...just happy to watch the sun grow dark on my skin and float off like a nocturnal butterfly...

More evening prayer rituals involving main guru, out of control jazz train, fire, swimming lessons in flowers, and foreheads to floor. Guru blessings, bus rides, new cities, more examples of south Indian style temple architecture...Tanjore and then off to Madurai...bus stations like orchestra pit for operatic dante's inferno... Techno bus ride from hell...Saddhu vs. drunks over who had their best interest for me, the foreigner , on the bus heading the wrong direction into the night...sitting and peacefully waiting for it to resolve...arriving late at night in several towns on holidays where all hotel rooms were booked..wandering for hours and having some graceful door open for us at the last minute so we didn't have to spend the night outside...over crowded train rides, and mad dashes around town to catch all the holy sights...

One week with Saravan felt like a month... Pretty easygoing to begin with, I now feel more smooth, like clay on the potters wheel of Indian time...all the bumps and abnormalities erased into a more streamline vessel of reaction...Back in Tiruvannamalai to decompress...and decide whats next..































2 comments:

  1. oh you are growing a beard again! great post. wow.

    ReplyDelete