Aloha, India! I flew from the Big Island of Hawaii through Honolulu, Osaka, Singapore and then into Chennai. To break it up a bit, I overnighted in both Osaka and Singapore. I took off at 10:19am on Thursday, January 10th and arrived on Monday, January 14th at 11:50pm. That’s nearly 5 days of travel. I do believe that I took the slow route to India!
Pongal festivities to give thanks for the harvest are in full swing. There’s much activity around the temples and most businesses are closed. I have arrived early and will be joining our Vedic astrology group in two days to visit many temples. Rather than take part in temple festivities, I choose to get a taste of India by learning about temple cooking from a local family and sharing an Ayurvedic meal prepared by an award winning cookbook author.
Bright Rangoli designs created with colored rice powder adorn the sidewalks and entrance to homes and temples in celebration of Pongal. I admire the creativity and beauty of this ancient tradition and also take note of the large floating flower arrangement on display in our hotel lobby. I want to learn to do both.
DAY 1 – Ekambareswarar Koil, Kanchipuram – Shiva
Our first temple visit is to Ekambareswarar Koil located in Kanchipuram. It is an important Shiva temple and a destination for Hindu pilgrims, but not associated with a specific Nakshatra. The temple is big and busy and I see many women dressed in bright red saris.
I want to build my confidence with sitting in public holding the geometric orb and crystals that will open the energetic portal for charging the essences. I find a place to sit as our group moves on to another part of the temple. I take off the copper top revealing the orb. With a crystal in each hand, I cup my hands around the orb and close my eyes to tune in. I feel a strong flow of energy moving through my body. I open my eyes and notice that William has also separated from our group and is sitting nearby. Feeling a bit self conscious, I am grateful for a familiar face and move to sit next to him. I explain the purpose of the orb and crystals. Luckily, William is interested in learning more about my essence making.
I offer the crystals to William to meditate with as I continue to hold the orb. A group of Indian faces soon gather around us. They are very curious, smiling and chatting with each other. They seem to wonder who we are and what we are doing. Immersed in the heightened temple energy and friendly attention from the Indian devotees, William jokes that he feels like he is Shiva and I am his consort Parvati. His humor offers a welcomed sense of lightness. Through it, we make a good connection and am glad for his presence.
This is in contrast to what transpired earlier in the day when I was having lunch with a few of the Vedic astrologers on our tour. We were a mix of professional Vedic astrologers, self-taught Vedic astrologers, students of Vedic astrology and then me – an interested novice. As we were getting to know each other’s credentials, I was asked repeatedly about my birth chart… a question here and then a question there. Out of the blue in response to yet another query about my birth information I said something like, “bit by bit you will know me and my chart and then with your little minds you will clearly see me.” It roused quite a reaction! I was mortified by what had just come unexpectedly from my mouth! I had to “back peddle” quickly, explaining I did not mean that Joytish (Vedic Astrology) is in any way simple or easy to understand. Quite the contrary, Vedic Astrology is infinitely complex and requires years of concentrated study. I definitely put my Scorpio nature on display for all to see! When I felt vulnerable from the repeated questioning, I protected myself with sharp words! My birth star is Krittika Nakshatra and it is known for cutting through things.
Upon further reflection and contemplation of the day’s events, I realize that I am uncomfortable when Vedic astrologers bring an overly intellectual approach to the deep esoteric subject of cosmic star wisdom. I am more intuitive and experiential. I have come to the Nakshatra temples with reverence and devotion to experience them, to feel their ancient energies. I know very little of the intellectual pursuits required to be an accomplished Vedic astrologer. I walk the humble path of shaman and alchemist by taking one step at a time in the best way I am able and asking for guidance from the unseen realms. I set up a small altar in my room with the geo orb. I offer a simple prayer…O Great Spirit guide me so that I may be of service in a good way. May these essences carry the ancient star wisdom to others who are not able to visit the temples.
DAY 2 – Pandava Dootha Perumal Koil, Kanchipuram – Rohini
The first Nakshatra temple we visit is Pandava Dootha Perumal Koil for Rohini. It is one of the oldest temples in Kanchipuram and dedicated to Vishnu. It was built by the Pandavas in the 8th century. Rohini worshipped Lord Sri Krishna and married Chandra (the Moon) at this temple. It is said the Rohini is still worshiping Krishna here. It is also believed that those born with the birth star of Rohini will be relieved of all their troubles if they come to worship Sri Krishna at this temple.
It is a good time to visit the Rohini temple because the Moon, as it is placed in the sky today, is in the Nakshatra of Rohini. The Moon is very happy in this part of the sky because it gets to be near its favorite wife, Rohini, and it is also in the sign of Taurus where it is exalted. At the time of my birth, the Moon was in the sign of Taurus near its exaltation point. I am grateful to begin our temple pilgrimage with a sense of resonance and familiarity with the cosmic energies.
Upon arrival at the temple, our group is informed by the Swami that non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the inner sanctum. Burning incense is handed out to the group with instructions to circle the temple grounds. I take this as an opportunity to sit with the orb, crystals and Rohini gem essence. I sit against a pillar close to the open door of an altar and adorn the orb with jasmine flowers. A small white silk bag hangs in the center of the orb and contains the essence. I humbly ask permission for my sombra (etheric energy body or soul body) to be allowed to commune with the sacred and ancient energies of the temple. I come in service and ask that the gem essence be energized with the cosmic energies of Rohini.
With permission granted, I feel a deep energetic flow in the midst of the temple activity. I feel at peace with my physical body remaining outside the inner sanctum, as my soul body is allowed to enter. When the group returns they gather near where I am sitting in meditation and discuss exclusion from the inner sanctum. I am mildly self conscious, but too deep in meditation and communion with the ancient temple energies to be deterred. Someone in the group takes a pic of me and the expression on my face reveals my deep communion. I say silent prayers of gratitude and offer a jasmine garland before leaving the temple.
DAY 3 – Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal Koil, Kanchipuram – Shravana
Legend has it that the beauty and luster of the Moon began to diminish due to a curse from having Rohini as his favorite wife. One of the Moon’s other wives connected to Shravana Nakshatra performed intense penance to Lord Vishnu at this temple for his remedy. Pleased with her penance, Lord Vishnu appeared before her on a Shravana star day and relieved the Moon of his curse creating instead the monthly cycles of waxing and waning. Since then, this temple is important for Shravana Nakshatra.
To gain wisdom, those born with Shravana Nakshatra are advised to visit and worship in this temple on the Shravana star days (as well as the Rohini and Hasta star days) and on the third day from the New Moon day called Moondram. The oneness of Shiva-Vishnu worship is observed by this temple.
I adorn the geo with jasmine flowers and sit next to a big blue pillar. As I slip into meditation and focus my attention with prayers of permission and invitation, I feel Shravana come. I am also aware that there are other Nakshatra energies present. I can feel their interest, yet I maintain my connection with the strong flow of energy from Shravana.
There are stone bricks in brightly colored pieces of cloth hanging from the branches of trees in the temple court yard. A friendly woman is sweeping near by. I want to ask her about the meaning of the stone offerings but she does not speak English. She watches with interest as I take a picture of the tree with the bundled offerings. I feel she would like her picture taken and she is delighted when I offer to have a selfie with her.
I adorn a statue of Nagas (snakes) with a red Hibiscus flower as I am leaving. Something feels familiar about the Naga statue. Later, I remember finding a small shell back home in Hawaii that looks very similar to the Naga statue. Luckily, I took a picture of the shell and am able to find it on my phone. As I inspect the picture, I see that the snake heads appear on the shell just like on the statue and there is a spiraled tail of sorts in the center of the shell. When I found the shell I was intrigued and felt the shell had a specialness about it and a message for me. The presence of the Nagas is strong in my birth chart and I am conscious to be in a good relationship with their wisdom. Yes, the Nagas have a message for me. I am just not sure what it is yet.
Kailasanathar Temple, Kanachipuram – Shiva
Kailasanathar Temple is an interesting Shiva temple built between 685-705 AD by a ruler of the Pallava Dynasty. It is a low, single story structure made of sandstone. It contains a large number of carvings and 58 small shrines which are dedicated to various forms of Shiva. The temple restoration is showing wear and tear as the top protective layer is chipping away. Even so, the many elaborate carvings are impressive. There is a particular carving that is pointed out as one of the few instances that the Goddess is portrayed in a rotund state. We are all amused and many from the group take a picture with the body affirming Goddess. Goddesses have curves too! I manage to get a picture of her and a fine statue of Ganesh as well.
On our way to the next temple, I see more Rangoli street art for Pongal that is still surviving and vibrant.
Sri Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple, Kanachipuram – Parvati
Later in the day we visit another beautiful temple for Kamakshi, a form of Goddess Parvati. Ka means Saraswati, Ma means Lakshmi and akshmi means eyes. She is the Goddess who possess Saraswati and Lakshmi as her two eyes. It is said that Kamakshi Amman fulfills all our wishes through her eyes. Many devotees are carried away by the kindness, love and affection in her eyes. This grand and ancient temple was built by Pallava kings during 6th century A.D.
I find a seat on the steps to commune with the feminine beauty of the Goddess temple. Although I show our tour guide where I am sitting to meditate, the group leaves the temple for a couple of hours and I am left there by mistake/no mistake. I am separated from the group, yet so not alone. At first, I walk the temple grounds looking for a familiar face. After I confirm that I am the only one of our group present and I assure myself that at some point we will be reunited, I relax and enjoy my stroll in the beauty. I feel the presence of the Goddess and embody her love and compassion as I walk. I feel content and at peace. I have my picture taken with many children. One mother gives me her baby to hold while her husband snaps our picture. I am a curiosity with my light skin and white hair slowly strolling around the temple grounds alone. As the late afternoon begins to turn to evening, the moon is approaching fullness and rising in the sky. I say a prayer for my spiritual New Moon sisters back home. One foot in front of the other I walk, dear sisters. We walk together at the temple dedicated to the Goddess. You are so present with me as I take each step. May we have eyes that see with the kindness and love of Saraswati and Lakshmi. I hold you so gently in my heart.
The group returns soon enough and I am so grateful to the Goddess Kamakshi for our time together.
DAY 4 – Prasanna Kundhalambika and Tantreeswarar Kovil, Poonamallee – Swati
The Swati Temple is located in a remote area outside the city of Chennai. Individuals born with the Swati birth star are advised to worship in this temple filled with the combined grace of Shiva and Vishnu.
William shares about Swati as we ride on the bus to the temple and Marlene adds her personal experience with having lots of Swati energy. I learn that Swati is the farthest Nakshatra from the moon’s ecliptic. Swati birth star gives success in the material world, as well as a profound cosmic connection. Swati connects one to the frequency of the Star Beings.
As we enter the temple, I pause for a picture in front of the beautiful ornate door. I look down and take a picture of a figure that is etched on the entrance step. With both hands raised to the heavens in a specific position, I feel this image bring down the celestial frequency as I step in.
This morning while preparing the gem essence to be charged at Swati, I drop the herkimer diamond on the floor as I am adding it to the small essence bottle. I wash the tiny crystal with Lakshmi’s Devotional Water which includes scented ceremonial water and sacred waters lovingly gathered from around the world. I realize as I am bathing the crystal that this is an anointing. It is no mistake and I am being guided. I take a picture of my small altar to remember this.
While exploring the Swati temple, I notice the statues are very wet as lots of sacred water is being used to bathe them. There are more Naga statues and these are wet as well. I feel a strong connection and resonance with bathing the crystal this morning. I sit next to the main altar to charge the essence in front of the shrine with a very small Goddess statue. I look up to her and connect our hearts. I am drawn to anoint her with the devotional water. As I do, a drop of sacred water runs down her cheek. This opens my heart and connects us more deeply. I sit and feel the essence being charged.
I am given an understanding about the importance of the constellation we form as a pilgrimage group. Each of us in our group of 24 or so, carry an individual celestial resonance that comes together to form a beautiful constellation. Our visit to this remote temple is most appreciated and the tear from the Goddess statue is one of gratitude.
We have an opulent lunch at a beautiful hotel and listen to blues music in the lobby. Even the bathroom is elegant with plants and marble. I take pictures in the bathroom because it is so very rare for a public bathroom in India. This stop is quite a contrast to our pilgrimage thus far and we all relish in the opportunity for a bit of luxury and rest. Marlene sheds sweet tears of gratitude for her powerful initiation at the Swati temple – just like the tear of gratitude from the temple Goddess. Powerful synchronicities are at play here.
William does a reading of my birth chart as we sit at the airport awaiting for our delayed flight to Madurai. The reading confirms my life and where I am at this point.
DAY 5 – Workshop with Professor Jaya Sekhar, Madurai
We attend a workshop on temple architecture with Professor Sekhar. He speaks about Devaalaya Silpa Sasthra: Dynamic Temple Architecture. The Universal, Planetary and Cosmic Energy that radiates in a Temple from the Various facets of the Temple. Devaalaya refers to a temple, and in a broader sense a devotional place or residence of God. Shilpa Sasthra covers architecture and iconography. Shilpa refers to the practice of the technique, while Shastra refers to its principles.
Elaborate rules are laid out for the places where temples are to be built, the kind of images to be installed, the materials from which they are to be made, their dimensions and proportions, the direction and orientation of the temple structures, and the air circulation and lighting in the temple complex.
These guidelines are intertwined with Astrology. The image of the deity is closely related to the Graha (planets). The term Graha literally means that which attracts or receives. It is believed that the statue of the Deity receives power from the planets and stars and then transmits the cosmic power received. Deities are placed in their respective quarters and aligned with the directions of the temple complex. Nine stones representing each of the planets are added to the center of the temple prior to placing the main statue or icon.
Worship requires images worthy of worship. Rituals are performed in the context of the image, which is contained in a shrine. The basic idea is that a temple must be built for the icon, not an icon for the temple. The temple is considered an outgrowth of the icon or an expanded image of the icon. The icon is meaningful only in the context of the shrine that is worthy to house it. The icon and its form, the temple and its structure, and the rituals and their details therefore get interrelated and intertwined.
I see lots of similarity between the principles of ancient South Indian temple architecture and the building of a sacred altar as I have been apprenticed in the PachaKuti Mesa tradition of Peruvian Shamanism. It feels very familiar.
When getting our picture taken together in the hotel lobby, professor (which we affectionately call him) softly inquires if I am a healer. I reply yes … of sorts… and return his kind smile.