Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Saturday Dec 3rd- Wednesday Dec 7th in Tiruvannamali

My last blog entry I was about to go to Shanti Niliyam, to try out Dominic's new chef Santos. Kumar drove me back home by auto rickshaw to freshen up & rest for 40 minutes before going. On the way I saw a building that said "Animal Rescue" & asked about it. Kumar told me it was for cats & dogs. The only cats I had seen were Dominic's & were very happy. And some dogs appeared to have human companions & others didn't...

My neighbor Uma welcomed me at my door & threw her arms around me saying she hadn't seen me in days & said she thought my schedule was too busy. They had wanted to invite me to dinner & she wanted to go walking with me the next morning. I told her I was going to Bajans (calling & response chanting) the next morning & that it would need to be before that. Her husband Supraat came out & I promised I'd come back for tea & to chat when I came back from dinner.

Again Kumar picked me up to go to Dominic's place. We had risotto (toasted bread with tomatoes, herbs & olive oil), vegetable soup & I had a special vegan main course mushroom & tomato with green beans over white rice. Everyone else had mushrooms with bishcemel (sp?) sauce. It was entirely too much food & Santos gave everyone twice the amount they wanted!

 Alan had a quizzical look on his face when I introduced myself as Butterfly...but I was too hungry to explain. I'd already shared quite a bit with Devi while waiting for dinner & had a lovely connection. She text messaged me at the table, an ashram that she's stayed at in Varanasi.

After dinner Kumar took me home & I went to visit my neighbors over ginger tea.

That next morning Sunday December 4th I did my morning japa of So Hum Aum (I AM that Presence within, God), meditation & asana (sun salutes), shower & a breakfast of banana, papaya & muesli. It was 8am by the time I knocked on Uma's door. She expressed that she wished I was earlier to go part way around Arunachala Mountain. But Supraat told us he could come pick us up if there wasn't time.

 Abi, there 11year old son joined Uma & I. We went off arm in arm in the direction of town & then took the fork to the left. A woman in a brightly colored turquoise sari & gold nose rings approached us with a small stick dipped in saffron colored tumeric powder with a yellow ribbon attached to it. She guided us to a tree by the side of the road, where dozens were tied. I asked her why we were doing this & if it designated where the Deepam festival of 1-2 million people walking around the mountain as it was lit on top with a giant vat of ghee (liquid butter) for a candle. She just bobbled her head & Uma said tumeric powder is medicine. I asked again, "But what is the purpose? Is it just to be pretty?" Neither one of them answered but just bobbled their heads & then Uma said, "She wants 10 rupees (which is 20 cents}". As we walked away from her, Uma told me laughingly, "She is a cheater! There are a lot of cheaters here. I will not let you do that again!" She gestured to all the sadhus in orange robe, "Over 90% of them are cheaters! And never go up the mountain with one, they've killed Americans." I assured her that I don't go with anyone I don't know. Then I showed her my whistle I'd been wearing around my wrist & I took a wide stance like in warrior pose & did a high kick with a karate chop. She said, "Do you know karate?" I said, "No, just attitude." And I related to her about how a monkey tried to take my cloth bag that had bananas in it & stared him down until he let go. She nodded approvingly.

We came to the 1st open air temple around Arunachala & removed our shoes. It was to Ganesh, remover of obstacles. She & Abi did some mudras (hand gestures) & giggled with a silly little dance, while I tried to imitate it.

We crossed the street & I wanted to take some pictures of the Rhesus monkeys. Uma pointed to a branch with an entire family of them. And yes I hope to post pictures soon! I remarked to Uma how human their ears look...& are actually a little pointed like a faery or an elf.

We walked a few more feet & Supraat came riding up on his motorcycle & took Abi back home with him.

Uma & I continued along our way, taking off our shoes every few feet to walk into another open air temple. They were all lovely with devotion. One that particularly struck me was to Krishna & had men & women sitting in front with baskets of tulsi sprigs & leaves. We each gave a man 10 rupees (20 cents) for a big handful & then we entered the temple. A Brahmin priest accepted the tulsi to put on a little throne & we were offered holy water to drink & bathe our heads with. I accepted the water in my hands & gestured to my lips & poured it on my head. Outside of the temple a man stopped Uma & spoke to her. She turned to me & said he approved that I was so interested & respectful & not just taking pictures.

We walked a few feet & I bought some bananas to give the monkeys later.

Supraat appeared again on his motorcycle & I & Uma got on behind him. He started driving on the sidewalk saying, "I'm escaping the police! They can't chase me here (on the sidewalk). Only 2 are allowed on a motorcycle!" We laughed...but it was a wild ride, as they all are in India.

I told them I'd like to give my bananas to the monkeys & he stopped for me to throw the bag to a delighted little family of Rhesus monkeys. Unfortunately my leftover tulsi was also in there.

We arrived back at our apartment at 9:45am & Kumar picked me up just 10 minutes later & I was only 5 minutes late for bhajans.

The little house where it was held was behind Dominic's place. It was packed, but Virginia & Dennis had saved a place for me. Virgina & I hugged as I sat down. There were only westerners here. But the chanting (call & response) was so beautiful & I found myself spontaneously crying the 1st 1/2 hour or more in gratitude to the Divine within & without & to Johnny. We sang to Shiva, Ganesha, Sri Ramana, Arunachala Mountain (an incarnation of Shiva) & I held mudras for welcoming, blessing, receiving... A very danceable chant to Radha was sung & I just had to dance for Radha. So I found a little spot at the back of the room near the bathroom door to whirl & dance. After that one chant I went back to my spot. Poems that Sri Ramana had written to the mountain & about divinity in nature, the sky the stars & in us all merged were read, while accompanied by flute. We concluded with the "Asathoma" chant (From the unreal, lead me to the real. From darkness, lead me to the light. From death, lead me to immortality. Aum, peace, peace, peace) & Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu (May all beings on all the worlds know happiness & peace).

When we stood up, Virgina told me she saw me dancin & thought I should go to Vrindavan during my pilgrimage. I responded that it was definitely on my list...& that Johnny had been my Krishna & I was his Radha! She gave me a big hug.

Devi was there & I gave her a big hug too & told her I'd been dancing to her chant for Radha. Then I told them both that I was going to go to Shanti Niliyam for lunch next door & give Dominic some feedback about the dinner the previous evening.

Devi joined me, but Dominic was out & we were told he'd be back in a few minutes. So while we waited I gave her my whole story about Johnny's beautiful death & little Maha Samadhi & how he named me butterfly. She was moved to tears when I related about all the love & his wanting to kiss me...& not treating each other any differently.

Finally she had to leave & Veena brought me some lunch, leftovers from last night. I had to ask her to please take 1/2 of the rice off my plate because it was too much. After eating I called Dominic & told him that while it was so sweet of Santos to want to feed everyone more than they wanted/needed, that it would be much better to allow customers to decide how much so there is no waste. Then there could be more leftovers for another time or better yet to feed more bellies instead of over stuffing some. And I added that since he was wanting to do organic mostly from his farm, he should include brown rice as an option for health nuts from the west. He thought they were all great ideas. Then he asked if I'd like him to call Kumar to take me home. I said that I'd like to walk to get to know the neighborhood, & thought I'd remember the way since I'd been driven there twice.

On the way back to the apartment, I got lost in the village & called Dominic. I told him I was next to a house that was painted yellow with a Yellow Pages advertisement. He called another auto rickshaw driver for me...who couldn't find me. I ended up talking to neighbor after neighbor who only spoke Tamil, the native language, & handing my phone to them. I kept being pointed the way & then trying to communicate with other villagers. I never panicked. It was during the day & they were all cheerful family people. I finally accidentally found Shanti Niliyam! And Dominic had Ragan (Karuna's brother) take me home. I paid for both auto rickshaws, since the other driver spent considerable time trying to find me with Dominic & different villagers help. But that only amounted to 130 rupees ($2.60). Dominic called when I reached my gate to make sure I made it.

I went up to my neighbors & sat down on one of their nice lawn chairs & put the seat back, exhausted. I told Uma what had happened & that I'd asked for a sign (from Johnny) about whether I should walk with arms interlocked with Virginia & Dennis on Deepam, with the 1-2 million people. I'd decided that that was my sign. If I could get lost easily during the day, that would be too much for me with that kind of crowd at night.

Uma & Supraat agreed with me. But they needed to take their son to his tutor & told me I could rest there while they took him. They got back about 1/2 an hour later & offered some tea. When it was time to go pick him up they offered to take me to market since the crowd would be getting thicker each night. Supraat went on his motorcycle. And I got behind Uma on her motorcycle. There were a lot more buses on the road & they weaved inbetween them, the auto rickshaw drivers, bicycles & pedestrians. Supraat went on to get Abi & Uma & I began shopping. They met us minutes later. We hung our groceries from handle bars & headed back. Uma & I choked with the extra buses on the road. She turned back towards me say, "Are you comfortable?" I leaned into her ear, "I'd be a lot more comfortable if you watch the road!" We laughed & I said, "Crazy Indian drivers! Including YOU!" She laughed again.

Back at their home, she made the red rice & tofu I bought at the market along with carrots, green beans, tomatoes & chilies. To my surprise she & her husband served just Abi & me, explaining that they eat later. And she wouldn't let me help with the dishes. After dinner I showed them pictures of my son on his Facebook page & pictures of Johnny on his Caring Bridge site I created for him Supraat had shown me there family pictures & this was the only way I could share with them on their laptop. I pointed out Johnny's enormous smile just before surgery to have an almost 30 lb tumor excised his 1st time with cancer...that he survived for 4 years & 9 more months. And that, "We didn't "wait for circumstances to change to be happy. We chose happiness then..." Uma's eyes misted up seeing that picture & our wedding pictures taken 6 months after, saying "So sad." Supraat asked if my husband had "treatment" & I tried to explain as best I could with the language difficulty. Then he confided that Uma had had cancer 3 years before & they refused treatment & had been charged a lot of money. I finally hugged them good night.

I had a hard time breathing & sleeping that night because of the extra pollution with Deepak coming. Monday morning December 5th I went to my neighbors to say hello. I told them about my sinuses & lungs, & Abi had been having problems too. So Uma offered to make tea with a tulsi plant behind our apartment & another plant. Abi had some too. It felt very soothing the moment sipping it. (They have an American water purification system by the way, as does Dominic.) Then I went home for a long nap & then joined them for dinner, with clear breathing though a runny nose.

Uma showed me how to make peanut, coconut chutney & with a large stone grinder on their covered patio. Supraat smoked on the other side & the breeze went the other direction. It is sad that they don't seem to understand the hazards of smoking...

Then she made chapatis & dhal, again only serving Abi & I. Then they put on a Jackie Chan movie with English subtitles. Virginia called & I stepped out to chat. She & Dennis had spent the morning with Sri Ramana's great nephew! She invited me to temple the next morning, darshan with Shiva Shakti again, breakfast & the caves. I was still pretty congested & told her I thought there would be too many buses again & needed to lay low for a bit.

Tuesday December 6th I spent doing japa, meditating & little asana practice & doing hand wash in a bucket in the shower to put on a line in the back. Then I joined my neighbors for more tulsi tea & lunch. Later her sister, brother-in-law & nephew visited. Her brother-in-law spoke "Brittish English" as he was a high school teacher, but her sister only spoke Tamil. They did ask me to "guess her age" & I responded, "You play that game hear too, huh?!" They laughed & insisted, I said 35 & she pretended to cry, being 32. Then she said she thought I was 30 & told them I was 46.

Finally I went home for a much needed nap & then called Dominic to have dinner at Shanti Niliyam. I met an acupuncturist there & will probably have a treatment after Deepam. A Brahmin came after dinner (chapati, coconut dhal, banana stocks cooked & papaya) & shared some prasad (blessed food, in this case rice) from the temple. As they had ice cream I explained that I was lactose intolerant & also didn't like the way cows were treated in America. The Brahmin nodded & expressed an understanding of how nature is manipulated to create large udders to produce milk in my country.

While I waited for Kumar to drive me home, Dominic told me he'd love to have me teach yoga at his retreat center farm when it's up & running. And he told me I could live anywhere I wanted & has connections in Brazil. I told him that I have a son & 2 cats, my Mom with end stage vascular dementia, Johnny's family, students... But that I'm open to travel.

I went to visit my neighbors when I got home & they insisted I try what Uma was making for dinner...this puffy bread made from chapati flour dropped in oil & dhal. Too much, but very sweet.

Wednesday December 7th, I asked my neighbors if they thought it would be crowded in town & was told it would be okay before night. I couldn't get a hold of Virginia & so I went to the Vedic chanting at the ashram by myself. Just lovely & heart expanding as I walked around the altar & the boys & young men chanting. It's so amazing that the Vedas are only a few actual pages in Sanskrit, but take volumes to explain. They are all seed words. And if listened to, or better yet chanted is said to open doorways of spontaneous understanding.

Then I went up to the 1st cave on my own. I declined an offer along my path to show me the river & a rock Ramana meditated on. There was a beautiful breeze & butterflies everywhere dancing in front of me. I had a short meditation in the 1st cave (about 40 minutes) because I was getting hungry after only having water, 3 small bananas & a handful of almonds.

The Dreaming Tree was closed, closed on Wednesdays, & so I had lunch at Manna Cafe` & then came to the internet cafe`.

I've been told that the vat of ghee is still alight on top of Arunachala after Deepam. So it will be lovely to do the walk after the crowds are gone & to go up the mountain.

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