A Sacred Mountain

Two days ago I was feeling a bit down. The last few weeks have been a rush of newness, exploration of sites, tastes, and sounds. But now I’m creating a routine, one in which I currently spend a lot of time By Myself.

When you are on your own, you have to create your purpose, as well as friendships out of the people in your proximity. Everything was exciting and safe and new at the beginning and now I’m on my own. Naturally I have to create a new life for myself. When I started at UO in the dorms I felt like this. After I had decorated my room I didn’t know what to do with myself. Last summer at the empty ASUO, too. Despondent, too much free time. And for someone who loves food, eating the same meal of yogurt, lentil soup, rice and bananas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a bit depressing. I’ve started sneaking in bits of tomato in plastic tupperware. I know my days will fill up eventually, with both activities and friends.

When I start to feel blue, I am training myself to revert to what I am grateful for. I asked Sampad, one of the society’s resident Sanskrit scholars, what thank you is in Sanskrit: Dhanyavadah. Nice word, one that I can actually say. I think I will use this to meditate on for awhile.

I have much to be thankful for. Yesterday was Sunday, our one day off. I went to a sacred mountain, with Venus and Bini, two cool women from the Media for Social Change team. The mountain is called Thiruvannamalai, two hours from Pondi on a crowded public bus. We hiked up the mountain and had a lovely picnic lunch at the ashram.

Bini and Venus

Venus loves mountains. But who doesn’t?

 green beans, chapati, tomato, guava

The four doors and towers of the temple face north, south, east and west. The ascending levels represent levels of consciousness to be attained.

Below in the city there is a large temple that is associated with fire, because of a centuries-long battle between Brahma and Vishnu about who was more powerful. Shiva, the god who is really supreme, decided to show them that he was in fact the most powerful. Below is the legend:

“To prove he was the most powerful, he took the form of fire which was very big and immense. This fire stood in front of the two and a voice was heard from the fire, which was Lord Shiva himself and told that “Among you two who will first approach the top and bottom of this dazzling fire will be said to be the most powerful forever.” Then Brahma, changed himself as a swan and flew up to the sky to reach the top of the Fire and kept flying for hundreds and hundreds of years. But could not reach the top on the other side, Lord Vishnu changed himself as a boar and starting digging down the Earth to find the bottom. Who also did the same thing over couple of years and could not ever find the bottom. Then both of them realized that Lord Shiva, he who is endless without the start nor an end was only the “Superior” among both of them. Their fight had got a conclusion. They came back to Earth and bowed in front of the Shiva, who was in the dazzling form of fire and requested to stay in the same form on this Earth and bless the devotees. Lord Shiva agreed to stay in the same form and transformed himself as a mountain. From then, every Karthikai Deepam Festival the column of dense fire comes to the sight on the top of mountain. At Thiruvannamalai this is done on the 10th day of this festival Karthikai Deepam.” (tiruvannamalai.co.in)

The best part of the trip was seeing the multitude of peacocks at the mountain base ashram, and then monkeys at the top! A whole family, big and small. It was my first time seeing wild monkeys in India. Very exciting.

Monkeys on the temple


I have been reading a lot of books, both spiritual and fiction. I met a lovely American couple, Cambria and Devin, who have been working at the society for the last five months. They left today, but Cambria left me a stack of wonderful books and some soap. The first one I read was The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. It takes place close to Tamil Nadu in the state of Kerala. It’s about a twin brother and sister growing up in the caste system within a dying family. The book’s strength is the dense imagery; I couldn’t put it down. I think A Fine Balance is next.

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Temple Ruins and Goodbyes

Yesterday Keri and Dan left to go back to Eugene. I remain. What wonderful travel companions I have been blessed with! Keri is such a sweetheart; she left me her sun hat, extra toiletries, and some books. I am sad to see them go, but on the taxi ride home I just couldn’t stop thinking about how fortunate I am to be here. India is hot and wonderful. So much fruit and noise and colors and time to read and write by the ocean. I am making friends with the society members, the people are so hospitable, intelligent, and passionate about what they do. I’m going to learn so much here, and I know that I owe it to God and the world to do something great with the training I will receive.

Before they left we went to the world-famous site of the Mahaballapuram temples. Built over 2,000 years ago, these beautiful granite temples were each carved out of a single piece of stone. Granite is the hardest rock in the world, and yet the gods, goddesses, animals, and royalty depicted are very delicately carved, with lifelike expression. Beautiful.

Also, the funniest thing kept happening while we were touring the sites. People kept asking Keri, Dan and I to take photos with them. Dan says, “Americans are good luck.” They told Dan he looked like President Clinton. Haha.

‘Vishnu’s  Butter Ball’, a giant granite stone that is perfectly balanced on the hill

An Organic Paradise

July 22, 2011

Today was an epic day.  This morning a taxi ride took us to the jungle of the ashram’s organic farm, where they produce all the fruits and vegetables to feed 1,500 people a day. They even grow all of the rice for the ashram. The only exception is the wheat for baking bread, as wheat only grows in North India.

Bug spray is a must!

Dan, our guide Deberatu in the center, and the organic farm director, Bhavaram on the right

One of our guides is a tall, lanky gentleman named Debabrata, which his mother gave him because it means “divine mission.” He has lived at the ashram for 35 years. He used to be a follower of Vivekenanda, but when he was 21 he discovered the Mother. It’s a great story, I’ll post about it later.

The fragrant champa flower, which has over 200 varieties. The other day I bought some locally made champa soap and it smells up the whole bathroom. 

The farm is not like our mono-cultured crops, all the plants in perfect rows. The farm mirrors how plants grow in nature, all the plants mixed up. The farm workers know where all the plants are, they are clearly identifiable and cannot get misplaced. Some crops are grown alongside other plants that promote pollination. This model is much healthier for the plants, and less work for the humans. They use the in situ composting technique, which means that vegetable debris is thrown directly into the garden beds, instead of being left to decompose in a pile first. Soil is layered with vegetable matter, so it can fertilize directly in the beds.

 In situ composting: Potato plants with hibiscus flowers layered on beds

The farm also has a medicinal herb garden, for teaching about the healing  power of plants.

This herb’s leaves are used  to heal any mouth sores and also doubles as a mouth freshener! 

Cinnamon! Smells like Christmas…

Basil, which looks different than Oregon basil but tastes similar

Our tour only took us through a tiny bit of the 42 acres, yet we saw dozens of different crops. Keri and I took a million photos!

Henna! The root of the henna plant is used to cure jaundice, the leaves are used to treat kidney stones when combined with wild radish. The fruit is dried and ground up to make red hair dye. What a helpful plant…

This leaf is ground up to make black hair dye. I didn’t catch the name of it. 

The hibiscus flower is made into a syrup, which has a cooling effect. The flower is also combined with coconut oil and used as a hair conditioner treatment. 

Guavas are like apples here, I eat them everyday. It’s wonderful. 

The Callotropis flower. The milk is poisonous, but it is used to cure migraines. One must use a needle to prick the temple and release pressure, and then rub the milk on the temples. The plant is also rich in potassium, and so is used in the beds as compost to balance out the nitrogen in the soil. 

The pineapple plant. Most people think they grow on trees, when in fact they are actually a tiny shrub. 

Palm fruit, which has a high sugar content. The fruit is mixed with cow urine and used as a fertilizer.

At the end of our tour we were given a feast of raw coconut, mango, papaya.  The coconut water is delicious, which we drank through all natural straws made from papaya leaves. After we finished the liquid they machete’ed the coconuts open and we ate the soft meat with spoons. Fully grown coconuts soak up all their water inside and the meat gets thicker and tougher. We had juice all over everywhere. Delicieuse! Debabrata said they don’t get many visitors, so they love to show people around. Such nice people.