Full Moon WalkAbouts
Life is an infinite procession of forms, observed the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, our very own Gurudev, a sobriquet both respectful and affectionate, founder of Shantineketan University and best known for his poems published under the title Gitanjali, though he was a prolific polimath with more talent and insight than would fill several doctoral theses.
And so it is with the monthly full moon circumambulation of Mt Arunachala, all 13 km of it, forming an unbroken, dense river of devotees, a circle of veneration without beginning or end, exactly matched by the eternal, infinite light that is symbolized by the sacred mountain along the vertical axis, a cosmic spinning top, yoni and lingam, one incomplete without the other, the two inseparably one.
Like a wind-blown speck of dust, I join the stream, happily barefooted, introspective, with many a glance over the right shoulder to gaze upon the mountain and the progress of the rising moon, a dslr camera slung over the other. It all looks quite ordinary. It’s the subjective feeling which tend towards, if not actually reaches, the extraordinary.
Then, through a gap in the trees along a forested stretch, the view opens up. The moon is well risen, clouds scudding across her visage like a fleet of galectic spaceships. A streetlamp dimly illumines the random shrubbery in the foreground, though even here there are patterns to be found. That pair of bushes, curiously leafless and pale, belong more truly to an inner landscape.
There’s a low-walled culvert conveniently to hand, mutely to serve as a steady substitute for the camera’s tripod which is unavailable because it’s doing temporary duty at a friend’s studio, who happens to be a magician working on his latest tricks, but that’s another story.
My companion also pulls out his compact point-and-shoot. Of course it’s digital. Does anybody these days remember something called ‘film?’ But we’re hopelessly outnumbered. Only professionals and other dinasaurs actually use cameras. Everybody else has a (camera)phone. You already know that, because you have one.
As happens with a grain of intention in a saturated solution of desire, it doesn’t take long for the need to possess forever an elusive experience to manifest itself as a thicket of cameraphones, all lifted up to the mountain and the moon, the scene instantly digitized, transformed into dormant impulses in the palm of one’s hand, to be revived at the touch of a button, if the mind ever returns to the past that’s already receding from the here-and-now in spate. I am as guilty as the next person.
As other instruments flash in the darkness, my antique is set to ‘manual,’ a prized feature that obsolesence has not yet obliterated, thereby enabling me to turn off that blast of automatic, on-board electronic light the reliably spells destruction of any worthy image, and enter rarified realms akin to astrophotography, where the lens and sensor gather the light over seconds, minutes, hours, depending upon how deep you’re looking into space.
In this case, from the nearness of the tamarind tree branches directly overhead to the moon and stars and the unknown beyond, I am momentarily content.
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Giripradakshina, walking barefoot the 13 km around the hill, Arunachala! Under the dim glow of a streetlight, too few lumens for acceptable photography, these three dogs caught my eye, something typically sweet about their presence, as they gathered eagerly around a silver-maned sadhu. From across the street I watched, hoping for a clear shot through a momentary gap in the dense river of pilgrims that flowed along the road. It took a few minutes until that fraction of a second presented itself.
The dogs were hoping for a snack, as the sadhu set up shop. He sat down on the edge of the sidewalk, smeared fresh vibhuti (sacred ash) on his forehead from a plastic packet, then put it away. On a small cloth spread upon the road, a large beautiful sea shell in which to receive alms, a small copper vessel and spoon with which to dispense tirtha, blessed water. His own drinking water bottle stood at the ready by his shoulder bag. The simple life.
The dogs soon moved on, in the absence of food, and so did I. Dinner for me was deep-fried snacks off the street and branded pop from the roadside stalls.
Later, in town, walking along Car Street, in front of the Big Temple, a giant illuminated float. I’d forgotten! This is the night when all the flower traders of Tiruvannamalai conduct a grand midnight Amman procession, flowers unlimited festooning a humble truck chassis. And fireworks!
But that’s another story: “Goddess procession celebrates August full moon.”
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