Shivaratri in the Hard Light Ashram, Ganeshpuri, Nimbola Part 1
This entry was posted on 3/6/2008 7:48 PM and is filed under India.
Once our retreat began we were on "retreat schedule". Conch horn blew at 4:30 am to wake us up. First meditation was at 5 am-6 am. Whenever we came to the Mandala tent for meditation or left it, we circled it 3 times. They had sent this huge dome to be erected here but Indian Customs didn't know what to make of it, so they held it there and we weren't able to get it. Instead, they erected a "wedding tent" for us to be shielded from the hot sun. At 5 am we used our flashlights and it was cool enough that we wore a light jacket. We heard roosters starting to crow and the sound of chanting coming from the nearby temples. After this meditation we would come back to our room and have a quick nap before breakfast at 7:30 am. Breakfast was usually chai or coffee, yogurt, muesli and some kind of grain, like millet or rice, with veggies.
After breakfast we would have our next session of meditation and talks by Mark from about 9 am until 12:30 or 1 pm when we would break for lunch. Now the weather would get really hot. It's very hard to stay cool when the sun is blazing outside. We drank lots of water and took frequent naps between meditation sessions so that we could be alert and awake when we were in the tent/hall.
After lunch we would meet again from 3-6 pm for more meditating. Then dinner and a final session at 8 pm for meditating after that. By then we would have sore knees and tired backs, but our spirits were soaring.
The Pods were in charge of decorating the Hall. Everyday we would make the back puja beautiful with garlands of flowers and fruit offerings. Sunil, our community liaison and "Man Friday" would make sure that we had fresh flower garlands delivered each morning.
Here is Mark offering Arati to Bhagawan Nityananda and Bhagawan Muktananda at the back puja as the retreat begins...
Shivaratri is a very important Indian holiday and hugely celebrated throughout India. It's the day of Shiva who is considered to be God himself, all pervasive and all powerful, manifest and unmanifest. We had 7 Brahmin priests who joined us for 2 days. Krishna, the head Brahmin, lives in Los Angeles and is a great friend of Hard Light. Brahmin priests are considered to be Libraries of Knowledge. They know everything about everything and are astute thinkers and brilliant students of the Vedas - the ancient texts which hold all knowledge of evolution. Here was an interesting juxtaposition - one of the brahmin priests is preparing the grass wands used in the yagna, with his cell phone in his ear...
Having them here with us was a huge honor. They started their preparations the day before Shivaratri. A mason came to finish up the Yagña (fire pit) to their specifications. He used bricks and a red clay mortar. The next day a woman came in early in the morning and coated the whole pit with cow dung to seal it and eventually give it a gray veneer. After that the pandits decorated it very beautifully.
Here's a movie of one of the pandits carefully decorating the yagna pit...
The priests prepared all of their ritual items. On this table are symbols of the 9 planets. Different grains for each one. Special colors and fruit and nut offerings. All of it is very highly ritualized and passed down from generation of priests. It took them hours to get all set up.
Each of us were given a red line on our 3rd eye.
And a special black thread bracelet covered in turmeric was tied on our wrists, left wrist for the women and right wrist for the men.
We were all told to wear red or orange for the women and white for the men.
Then the Brahmin priests begin their chanting. We hooked the sound system up to an outdoor loudspeaker so everyone in town would know what we were doing and come and join us, which many of them did.
If we thought it was hot then, after they started the
fire pit going, it really started cooking inside. They added lots of
ghee and special herbs to the fire along with sticks and coconuts and
mango leaves. At one point they hollowed out a large melon and drew
patterns on it and then asked us all to go and get our Indian rupee coins
and we filled the melon with them.
What happens with this melon you ask? See part two - the next section of this blog entry for more...