I DREAMED INDIA INTO EXISTENCE
My first three months in India went by very quickly. As my visa was about to expire, I decided to go to Delhi where I would either find a way to extend it or travel to Nepal and obtain a new one there. I met a young sadhu while waiting for the train in Nasik, north of Bombay. We struck up a quick friendship and managed to communicate despite the fact that neither of us had command of the other’s language. What we did have in common was our long hair.
Thumping himself on the chest, and shaking the dreadlocks that hung halfway down his back, he called himself a Naga Baba, a yogi. Naga means “naked,” and indeed many Naga Babas have abandoned all clothing, but to these yogis their initiation into nakedness meant that they had given up everything of the Ordinary World, including its social behavior, rules, rituals, and books. I saw them as the Hell’s Angels of babas.
The young baba, who wore only an ochre cloth around his waist, couldn’t have even been my age, which was nineteen at the time, as he was failing miserably in his attempt to grow a mustache out of peach fuzz. He was going to see his guru in Ujjain, one of the most ancient and sacred cities in India. “I am nothing,” he said, “but my guru is everything.” So I decided to postpone my Delhi trip and accompany him instead. How could I pass up this opportunity?
When we arrived, the young baba took me to the simple Shiva temple where he lived with his guru and several other sadhus. His brash behavior melted away in front of his guru and he became the boy that he was and went right to work. I was enjoying the company of his guru, an old laughing Buddha of a man, but the young baba, after touching his master’s feet, quickly departed to the kitchen area to prepare vegetables.
“Here? There? Where you will go?” the old baba asked me in his broken English. He waved his hand in a circle. I knew what he meant. I was running around like a chicken without a head. If I hadn’t wanted “in” as much as I did, I might not have felt so outside and could have enjoyed the exotic locale as a spiritual tourist. I felt a subtle shift in my perception. There were doorways, passageways, in my dream of India, whose entrances had proved inaccessible. Could I dream my way through the labyrinth? Perhaps. But I sensed I needed some additional tools. It requires a leap, I thought.
After sunset, evening worship began. Two babas, standing in the temple, banged brass plates with wooden mallets, alternating two beats each, a tempo that started to sound like the rhythm of time. The old baba looked at his watch, he shook it a few times, and looked at it again, then he put it to his ear. Obviously it wasn’t working.
Helped by two of the younger babas, the old one got on his feet and led us over to the temple. We walked up a couple of steps through medieval archways into the mandapa, or meeting hall, where already half a dozen babas had gathered and were ringing the heavy gunmetal bells hanging down from the ceiling on long chains in front of the holy of holies, the inner temple housing the Shiva linga. The smoke from the incense and wood resins created a haze in the hall. I strained to see the priest pouring water on the Shiva linga and then decorating it with flowers. The crowd swelled, another dozen enthusiastic babas had arrived. The baba-priest now waved a brass butter lamp, five wicks and five flames, in circles in front of the linga, while a couple of drummers whacked their dholak drums.
I stood on tiptoe behind the frenzied worshippers so that I could watch the priest, his head swaying to the hypnotic beat, offering Fire to the god Shiva. I tried to get closer but everyone had the same idea; the crowd surged. The pulsating sounds were overpowering, pulling me like an ocean riptide, filling my veins with liquid rhythm. I began to lose control and tried to resist.
Then I caught myself. What was I doing? Why fight it? Let go! My eyes closed for a moment, and my body started swaying to the percussion--brass plates banged, bells jangled, and drums cracked. I felt myself dancing. I opened my eyes to see the crowd give way before me. I moved slowly forward, rising up from the temple floor with every step, a few inches at first, and then I was dancing on air. Soon I began to float, supine, four or five feet above the ground. I was able to put my head just inside the holy of holies, which had a low arch, and saw five little fire deities, little Agnis, dancing in front of Shiva in the form of a large egg of naturally polished black stone. The wet black stone radiated heat that made me sweat, and it made a sound like Om that hummed louder and louder until it consumed all the other sounds. Maybe it was the Mother of all Sounds.
Everything was suddenly very quiet, and I became aware that there was nothing holding me up. At the same time I realized that I was no longer attached to my body and I fell to the ground with a great crash.
When I was able to focus again, I saw the heavy round jowls of the old baba who was cradling me. Ten faces looked down at me with concern.
Hara Hara Mahadev!
They kept shouting as the old baba made me sniff some more camphor. I tried getting up but was too weak to move.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Shiva like you,” smiled the old man.