A GLIMPSE INTO THE UNKNOWN.
The day was rather too hot for the season and it was 4 o'clock in the afternoon when I rose from my easy chair, on which I had divided my time between an inclination to sleep and a few Sanskrit books which I took up by turns in a drowsy mood and laid aside. There was a feeling of heaviness in the atmosphere of the room which made me sick of being shut up and I longed to go out into the open air.
I walked along the dusty lanes, unmindful of the traffic, possessed of an absent-mindedness which made me oblivious to the noisy preparations that were being made for the celebration of Maha Sivaratri.
In my town there is an old temple of Siva and on this night of the year, a grand feast is to be celebrated with great pomp in honor of the Deity. Thousands of people from the surrounding villages of the district go to this town and this festival is a stirring incident in their rather monotonous lives. In the noise and amidst the crowd, they for a night at least rise above themselves and forget the petty worries and strife's of their lives. A supreme joy seems to fill them on this night. This is an oasis in their life's desert and their parched lives drink to their heart's content of this bliss.
I was not, however, in a mood to participate in the happiness of this kind. The sight of the crowd filled me with a spirit of world – weariness and I felt a strange impulse which would drive me away from the turmoil and uproar of life. My spirit was troubled and I was filled with a strange yearning to know the meaning and purpose of life. My heart burnt with a desire to unravel the mystery of suffering and of death. So I took myself away from the crowd. I walked straight along the high road, through an avenue of trees till I came to the bank of the river. I crossed the bridge and went into the adjoining grove of trees.
This grove is a jungle in a miniature. There are trees of various sorts in it; as well as a few Bilva trees, sacred unto Siva, interspersed here and there. Almost in the center of the grove, near a Bilva tree is a spot of cleared ground. Under the tree is a crude temple-like erection about three feet in height. Within this is a linga, an emblem of Siva.
There are wild and weird stories current about this temple and the image in it. The oldest inhabitants of the town have heard from their great grand-fathers that there was an Aghori who lived in the grove. He practiced the greatest renunciation and his one aim in life was to develop the utmost disrelish for it. He wrecked not what he ate. He fed upon even the carrion that he obtained from the adjoining burning-ground. His conduct was however in perfect contrast to his horrible life. He was as simple as a child and hurt not the meanest of living beings. Once a God took interest in him and brought him this formless linga to be worshipped by him.
Others said that when this town came into existence and the place near the grove was set apart for the burning-ground, Yama, the God of death ordered his emissaries to establish the linga on the spot to serve as the object of worship for the spirits of darkness that inhabit the burning-ground.
There were others who believed that Rudra himself had assumed the form of this linga. The God who wore skulls and roamed over burning-grounds, marshalling the forces of destruction appeared to eyes of flesh in the form of a stone.
This was in every way a dreaded place, on account of the beliefs that were entertained about it, and on account also of actual facts known about it. The grove in which this temple-like structure was situated was on the out-skirts of the town and because of its vicinity to the burning-ground it was supposed to be the haunt of devils and no one would venture near it after it was dark. There was many an occasion past the midnight when people as they passed along the road in their carts heard the noise of the revelry and feasting of the devils. People of a skeptical turn of mind, however, who never had the benefit of the actual experience, supposed it to be the noise of a band of dacoits rejoicing and offering their worship to the God after a good night's work. This was one view, but it did not in the least, disturb the belief about the devils, though on several mornings subsequent to such an experience of the travelers there were reports of during robberies from the surrounding villages. In fact so profound was the belief that the place was haunted that not even the whole police force of the town would venture to invade the sanctity of the devil-haunt in response to the wishes of the skeptically minded-people. Such was the spot and such were the associations connected with it. But the absent-mindedness that possessed me and the sense of world-weariness that overcame my feelings were so strong that these thoughts about the place did not weigh with me. I was indifferent as to what became of me and I seated myself opposite to the linga reclining against a block of stone that lay near.
The sun had set and the twilight was past. The grove was being shrouded in darkness all around me except for a bright star here and a bright star there that peeped at me through the spaces in the thick foliage of the trees. The night advanced and the veil of darkness became thicker. I did not think of going home; for it was my habit to fast and keep awake during the Sivaratri, both of which I could do here as well as at home. Further I had long thought that in darkness and amidst such surroundings, Nature conveyed to the mind very forcibly an idea of the fearful aspect of God. So, I resolved to remain here on this lovely spot during the night and meditate on Maha Kala.
As I sat reclining on the stone several thoughts came crowding in upon my mind. I recollected the exquisite poetry of Kalidasa which I was reading in the afternoon. The wonderful scenery of the Himalaya seemed to pass before my mind's eye.
Proud mountain – king! His diadem of snow
Dims not the beauty of his gems below.
* * * * * * * * *
Oft, when the gleaming's of his mountain brass
Flash through the clouds and tint as they pass,
Those glories mock the hues of closing day,
And heaven's bright wantons hail their hour of play;
Try, ere the time, the magic of their glance,
And deck their beauty for the twilight dance.
* * * * * * * * * *
Far spread the wilds where eager hunters roam,
Tracking the lion to his dreary home.
* * * * * * * * * *
List! Breathing from each cave, Himalaya leads
The glorious hymn with all his whispering reeds,
Till heavenly minstrels raise their voice in song,
And swell his music as it floats along.
* * * * * * * * * *
Yet hath he caves within whose inmost cells
In tranquil rest the meekly darkness dwells,
And, like the night-bird, spreads the brooding wing
Safe in the shelter of the mountain king."
I reflected upon the beauty of the mountain-maiden Parvati, which inspired the poet to sing:-
"Now beauty's prime, that craves no artful aid,
Ripened the loveliness of that young maid
That needs no wins to fire the captive heart,
The bow of Love without his flowery dart,
There was a glory beaming from her face,
With Love's own light, and every youthful grace;
Ne'er had the painter's skilful hand portrayed
A lovelier picture than that gentle maid;
Ne'er sun-kissed lily more divinely fair
Unclosed her beauty to the morning air.
* * * * * * * * * *
When the Almighty Maker first began
The marvelous beauty of that child to plan,
In full fair symmetry each rounded limb
Grew neatly fashioned and approved by him:
The rest was faultless, for the Artist's care
Formed each young charm excellently fair,
As if his molding hand would fain express
The visible type of perfect loveliness."†
[† From Griffith's translation of Kumara Sambhava]
From this exquisite description of beauty, the mind wandered away to the God of the burning-grounds "with his coat of hide with blood-drops streaming," on whose 'heart the funeral ashes rest'- the strange bride-groom who when he went to espouse Uma was followed by the dreadful Kali with
"The skulls that decked her rattling in the wind,
Like the dark that scuds across the sky
With herald lightning and the crane's shrill cry."
Here apparently there was an anomaly. It must have been the strangest freak of fancy that had thrust the Austere God into a region of poetry. It appeared to be ab inconsistency to introduce the Great Lord into a love story even to suit the purpose of the gods. Thoughts of this nature troubled the mind sorely until I could no longer keep the nocturnal vigil. I was weighed down with thought and the intensity of it added to the weariness of the body, I felt a feeling of sleepiness creeping upon me and I was soon fast asleep. The sleep was not, however, quite undisturbed, for when I awoke I recollected that I had dreamt a wondrous dream.
As I lost consciousness of the things around me, I seemed to wake up into another world of realities. The silent grove transformed itself into a scene of activity and bustle. At a distance from me, I seemed to hear the blowing of conches and a confused noise which indicated that a number of corpses were being borne to the burning-ground. The noise grew louder as the procession came nearer. But, lo! when I looked at the biers, I found that there were not dead bodies stretched on them; but beings of an ethereal nature were sitting on them with joyful countenances and haloed of great effulgence around their heads. I enquired of the weird looking bearers as to the nature of the beings borne by them. Their answer rang in a strange voice that they were spirits who had obtained a release from the world and who were going to higher planes to learn the lessons which lives in those regions had to teach them. The vision passed away.
Then after an interval I heard a most pitiful sound as though a thousand throats were giving vent to their feelings of sorrow in moans. I wondered whence such a doleful noise could proceed and a chill ran through my frame. I cast a bewildered look around me and stood stupefied. But I had not to remain long in suspense for a Being as radiant as the day appeared before me and said that the noise was due to the pitiful cries of the spirits whose time had come to descend to the earth. They would fain remain in the higher regions and grieved deeply into bondage in obedience to the divine law. The jarring noise finally ceased.
Now my ears were treated to the most soul-bewitching music. It was heavenly and transcended in power, anything that can be produced on the earth. My whole frame thrilled with a new life. As the music penetrated into me, I felt that a new understanding was dawning upon me. I felt that I responded to this music, nay that I was a chord in a myriad chords that vibrated to produce this grand harmony. As this experience was about to cease, I heard a voice proclaim that Existence was this glorious music.
Hardly an instant passed after this when I beheld a Goddess of heavenly beauty. There was a bright halo around Her head and on Her countenance She wore a benign look. At the sight of Her I was overcome by a feeling of reverence and I fell prostrate at Her feet which scarcely seemed to touch the earth. I begged of Her to tell me who She was and wherefore I was favored with Her divine presence. She answered that She was Durga, the Mother of living beings. The thought 'How was it then that She was considered the Slayer of Her children' crossed my mind and I was about to give utterance to it, when She answered me saying "I slay not Souls, - but only break up the effete forms to help the evolving souls with in" and the vision vanished.
Next appeared the form of a Holy Ascetic from Whose countenance radiated a calm that stilled all perturbing emotions which welled up in the heart. Nature herself appeared to become tranquil at His appearance. The sight of this Divine Personage was most elevating and I felt uplifted above the senses. A serenity – a most exalted calm heralded His approach; and in the sanctity of His presence, I felt as though I stood on the highest summit and from there surveyed the hills and the valleys of life. I no longer looked through the gateways; but from the house-top. Now was everything clear, as I was filled with enlightenment. This was the God of the burning-grounds. The senses though they are the gateways of knowledge, still they are not broad enough for all the knowledge to pass through them. When these gateways are passed the soul stands at the threshold of knowledge. So one has to transcend the sense-world to visit the Realm of Wisdom. The plane of Maha Kala represents the stage where the senses cease to exist as such and their attractions are burnt up. But as nothing can really be destroyed, there is only a transformation, through the apparent gateway of destruction, of the senses into higher faculties wherewith the soul functions for the purpose of further development on the higher planes. And verily this great God appears at the termination of the soul's existence in every plane, to fill it with enlightenment and help its transit to the higher.
Such were the visions which the flashes of sleep's kaleidoscope presented. When I awoke before the morning twilight, I was resting before the small temple with the God in it and there were signs that I had not been there alone through the night. The robbers did not forget to pay their devotions to their God on the holy Sivaratri.