Chamundi Swami, by me
There’s this giant bull statue at the top of Chamundi Hill, Mysore. We took the motorbike up there, but not for the bull, but to crawl into the cave and chat with the Swami. He was a journalist before he renounced the world and went wandering in the Himalayas, for seven years I think. Then he’d come and taken care of this temple, most of the time in this cave, I guess.
India is always a striking clash of east and west. The cave, for example, had incense and lingam and traditional icons, but also a CDMA phone and tiling. The power went out and it was ethereal for a while but then he turned an electric lamp on. We talked about ancient Hindu Gods, and also his flight to Indonesia. Such is India.
I asked him a few questions, which I’d been wondering. One was about Ravana. I’m trying to track down my name here, Indrajit, though much more is told about his father, Ravana. This is one story I heard.
Shiva’s Celestial City
Shiva’s wife Parvati wanted a house. Despite being one of the three most powerful Gods they still lived in the open. So Shiva contacted the architect to the Gods (whose name I forget) and he built a house, a city reveal, more resplendent than all. The streets were gold and there was no need for light at night, the diamonds shone so brightly. It was a house greater than Vishnu or Brahma and Parvati was well pleased.
To inaugurate the house required certain rituals. At that time Ravana, son of a Brahmin, was among the most learned and erudite sages in creation. Shiva invited Ravana to perform the necessary invocations and chantings, which he did to perfection. Then, traditionally, the host asks the sage for a request, which he must grant. Ravana asked for Shiva’s house. And Shiva gave it, willingly. That house became the city of Lanka.
I asked him a few things about me personally, but there were a few questions I forgot. The next morning the mosquitoes woke me up at like 4 AM. I couldn’t sleep so I got on my bicycle and went back to the hill. By the time I got there the sun was rising. I paid my respects to the bull and meditated for a while before I went back to Swami.
The night before I’d asked him about compromise, like, moral compromise. In my own life, but also to understand what’s going on in my country. Like, is it OK to do ‘smaller’ bad things to serve a greater good? Killing for example? When I asked on a personal level (not that I am killing, but other things) he said no, you have to do the right thing, even if it’s hard, even if it doesn’t bring personal rewards. However, then I asked why it was OK for Rama to kill Ravana. Why it was OK for Lackshman to kill Indrajit. He’d mentioned that Ravana was a troublemaker and a rapist (before a celestial woman cursed him to be incapable of rape), but it seemed to me that killing was still bad.
He said that sometimes a bad became so bad, so intolerable that it had to be stopped, that it had to be ended. I don’t quite get it, but in Hindu mythology this seems to happen a lot. Chamundi, for example, refers to Durga an incarnation of Parvati, Shiva’s wife. There was once a bull/elephant headed demon (I think it switched) that was causing so much trouble around Mysore that it had to be stopped. It was immune to men (classic rookie mistake) and so Chamundi came down and chopped off his head. They celebrate this triumph of good over evil on Dussehra in Mysore (when much of the rest of the country celebrates the death of Ravana). But I digress.
Evil in the Hindu lore seems to rise almost cyclically and then get chopped down. However, it seems that the killing is rather violent and against swami’s personal advice. He said that this was basically part of the cycle of things, I think he compared it to nature or tsunami, just that people got blamed. Which I don’t quite get, I think that didn’t get transmitted in full. I didn’t fully understand everything he said, so please take any transcription as basically my impression, there’s a lot more to his system of thought than my twitterized grey matter can process or convey.
But, uh, well, if evil rises to such a point that you have to cut it off, that seems like it would apply to, say, the LTTE. I mean, Prabhakaran had gotten so bad and seemed so invincible that something had to be done. So I asked him. I asked if it was OK for all those people to die to end the LTTE. He kinda hedged, or perhaps I just didn’t understand. I still don’t know.
We talked about his flight and I touched his feet and left. Mysore is great and I’m meeting pretty yoga girls here, but that’s not the point. ‘Bout time to get back on the road.