DAY 18 – Gathra Sundareswarar Koil, Kanjanagaram – Krittika
Gathra Sundareswarar Koil is for Krittika Nakshatra which is my birth star. It is a special blessing to pray and make offerings at the temple of your birth star. The group shows kind respect and offers me the first place in line at the altar for pooja. I am wearing flowers in my hair and bright colors. The energy in the temple is very strong and elevated. The vibration is so elevated and cosmic that I am close to being nauseous. When I sit with the orb, I feel the portal to the cosmic energies of theopen and charge the essence. Swami shares an origin story with us about the stars of the constellation which is Krittika. The temple has been repainted and renovated since Komilla and others in the group have visited. They are amazed with the transformation and some are put off by the bright colors. I am given guidance as to the importance of new energy coming into the temple. Swami hands out saris to the group and I am given one in a rich, regal purple color. I later donate it to a woman in need of a fine sari. We visit three temples today so there is a tight schedule. All too soon we must leave for our next temple.
Sri Agneeswarar Temple, Nalladai – Bharani
The temple is old and not in good repair, yet it has beautiful altars. It was built during the rule of Rajaraja Chola II during the years 1146 – 1163. According to legend, a great fire ceremony was held here and devotees brought three pieces of silk clothes as offerings. They were dismayed when their clothes offerings were thrown in the fire pit. Yet, they soon saw that their fine cloth offerings had not been burnt but were draped on the the statue of the Lord in the inner sanctum. The sage explained that the fire and Bharani are one in the same and have the power to deliver their offerings to the Lord directly. That is why this temple is devoted to Bharani star.
Bharani is the Nakshatra for the Goddess and the statues here are adorned with huge flower garlands. I feel a strong presence of the Goddess as I sit with the orb.
We stop for lunch at Neemrana Bungalow that sits on the beach at Tranquebar. I am elated to be near water! I wade in and collect shells. There are women selling shells and I buy a few from them although shells are plentiful on the beach. I quickly assemble a shell offering mandala to honor the sea and the special day of visiting the temple of my birth star.
Kathiramangalam Vana Durga, Kathiramangalam – Mrigashira
The presiding deity at Kathiramangalam Vana Durga is Shri Vana Durga Parameswari Amman who is a manifestation of the the Goddess Durga. It is believed that she goes out during the nights and comes back every day. The main Idol of the temple is 6 feet high.
The temple is busy with many people lighting candles and giving offerings. I sit on the floor at the altar in the middle. There are many local devotees lined up on each side. It is very crowded. I buy a garland of lemons and flowers as offerings for Durga. She likes lemons and they remove impurities. I sit near Nandi to charge the essence and I offer honey. As we are leaving I see a few broken statues laying on the ground outside. I go closer for a look. Their energy is eerie like visiting a graveyard and I keep moving after I take a quick picture.
One of the shop keepers escorts me to the temple to place the naga statue with prayers and flowers. I pray asking the community of naga statues to please accept us. I feel permission is granted and I anoint the statue with sandlewood, kum- kum and turmeric. My escort creates a necklace form the turmeric root and red cord that I received at the Purva Phalguni temple for marriage blessings yesterday. I add the necklace to the naga statue asking that I be given a blessing from the Nagas and that I use Naga wisdom wisely.
DAY 19 – Shri Mahalakshmiswarar Temple, Tirunindriyur – Anuradha
Shri Mahalakshmiswarar Temple for Anuradha and is very old. The legend goes that a Chola king built the temple here because as he traveled his lamp would be extinguished and then magically relit as he crossed near by. He inquired with a local shepherd and was informed that a Shivalinga was located here. Because the king wanted to build a temple in another place, he tried to relocate the linga and it began to bleed. The king instead built the temple here on the Anuradha star day.
While the temple is not very well maintained, the energy is sweet and very present. There is an intricate Rangoli design at the front entrance. I bring what has become one of my favorite offering flowers and lay it with a prayer at the feet of the Nandi. I sit with the orb and am filled with loving devotion.
I leave a small offering of gratitude at the door of the altar. My offering includes the flowers I used to adorn the top of the orb when charging the essence, a garland of jasmine, a red rose, and my favorite shell from our visit to the beach. Too soon we are called to leave as we are on a schedule to reach the next temple. Kari, whose birth star is Anuradha, and I are both reluctant to leave the sweet beauty of this temple. I slowly follow Kari out as the rest of the group is on the bus waiting. I take Kari’s picture as we leave. I can feel her yearning to stay just a bit longer. I say a prayer of gratitude as I leave and know that I will come again on another day sometime in the future.
Sri Varadarajaperumal Temple and Pashupradeeshwarar temple, Pasupathikovil – Jeshta
We visit two temples for Jyeshta – one for Lord Vishnu and the other for Lord Shiva – that are located in the same general area. They are both old and in poor condition but the spiritual energy is still quite powerful.
Komilla shares in her book, ‘The Nakshatras: The Stars Beyond the Zodiac’, that while Jyestha is the elder sister of Goddess Laxmi and commands respect, her power has dimmed in current times. She needs to be better understood. While Jyeshta has a darker side she does not bring bad luck. She teaches not to create our own misfortune but instead develop the ability to overcome and fight our inner demons. I share this because at the second temple something quite relevant transpires.
I am sitting with the orb in meditation near where the group is standing at the altar. I feel a steady powerful stream of energy flow and I am deep in meditation. I begin to feel vibrations coming from the ground beneath me. It feels like earth trimmers, similar to the many I felt at home on the Big Island of Hawaii with the lava flow. I open my eyes to get a sense of the reaction from those in the group. They are acting like nothing is happening, like they don’t feel anything different. I am a bit puzzled by this. When I close my eyes, the earth trimmers are still there and then subside. I complete charging the essence and stand with the group at the altar for our pooja. At the end of the ceremony the Swami brings an offering plate. As he anoints us with sacred ash, we place a small monetary offering on the plate. This is the customary process that has been followed at each and every temple we visit. On the plate there is a lamp with a flame burning. As the offering bills are added to the plate they form a pile that gets close to the flame. I notice this and watch with careful interest. I am wondering if the Swami will stop to remove some of the bills. In a quick moment, the bills ignite on fire and there is a loud panicked reaction to put out the flames. I contemplate the panic caused by a small amount of money on fire. I notice the synchronicity of the fire and the earth tremors. I am taken back to the fierce fire ceremony that the volcano Goddess Pele gifted me. I had the opportunity to sit in the presence of her fire and magnificence and power. I was graced with the opportunity to release my attachments as the house containing my belongings went up in flames. Again in this moment, I am grateful. As I leave, I quietly offer the Swami a couple of large bills to more than make up for the donation plate fire. With this gesture I again thank the unseen world for the fierce teaching of the fire to burn away that which is no longer needed. I was not brought bad luck or misfortune, no, I was gifted with the grace to overcome my attachment to things. My life and my relationship to life is changed.
DAY 20 – Shri Brahammagnana Pureeswarar, Keezha Korukkai Village – Dhanishta
Shri Brahammagnana Pureeswarar is for Dhanishta and today the Moon is in Dhanishta so it is special to visit this temple. It is also Anna’s 60th birthday celebration ritual and she is having a grand fire ceremony. As we wait for the ceremony to begin I explore the temple grounds. I notice white datura flowers growing and ask permission to pick a few as offerings. Datura is a powerful visionary plant of South America. A common variety of the plant, Angel Trumpet, grows abundantly in many places. Angel Trumpet is always a favorite in my garden and shamanic work.
We all take part in Anna’s ceremony. We are each given a basket of items that will be offered by Swami to the fire. We form a long line and walk around the temple grounds with our shoes off, each of us carrying our basket and moving to the loud music being played. It is hypnotic and I begin to dance as I walk. I feel the ancient steps in my body. I do not know and later read that Dhanishta loves to dance. Devotees are advised to circumambulate the temple in order to imbibe its energy and it is important to ensure that your unique footprints are left in the soil.
I am unaware that a big bucket of water is going to be poured over Anna’s head as part of the ceremony. However, as I leave the hotel room I feel that it is important to bring along a towel. It turns out that Anna has not remembered her towel and am able to offer the one I brought. It is my small birthday gift to her.
The 60th birthday celebration is elaborate and very powerful. The chanting is strong and the ceremony is effective and well orchestrated. I am so grateful to be a part of it. I sit with the orb and the essence is charged with powerful festive energy of celebration and transformation. At the close of the ceremony we share in a delicious Prasad of sweet pudding. I adorn the Ardhanarishvara statue (half Shiva and half Shakti) on the back outside wall of the temple with datura blooms and my yellow flower garland. I pray that any remaining spiritual dross be burned off. I ask to be given the vision to see into the unseen realms in a good way to be of service.
DAY 21 – Agnipureeshwarar, Thiruppugalur – Shatabhishak
Agnipureeshwarar Temple is for Shatabhishak. Today the Moon is in Shatabhishak so it is a special day to visit. Agni (fire God) worshipped Lord Shiva at this temple and there is a rare form of Agni that has two faces, 7 flames, 7 hands, 4 horns and 3 feet. The temple is old, beautiful and sits next to water.
I go back to the bus to get a bottle of herbs that I want to take into temple and charge. I purchased the herbs from a man selling them on the street in front of one of the other temples. I have learned that traditionally oil is added to the herbs, allowed to sit and then used on the hair. I am planning to add coconut oil along with sacred water and perfume to the herbs and use the liquid for offerings and to anoint sacred objects. As I sit in the temple by myself with the bottle of herbs, I have distinct memories of being told that I am a plant shaman. I stand up and walk slowly in a counter clockwise circle to unwind my remembering. One of my memories is with a beloved sister, gifted shaman and teacher named Nina who has transitioned from this life. Nina means the element of fire. I attended a Sacred Plant Spirit workshop some years ago which Nina led. I brought along to the workshop a small potted datura plant that had been recently gifted to me. During the workshop the little plant bursts into full bloom. She tells me definitively that I am a plant shaman. Nina appears in my mind’s eye and offers guidance. My offering of the datura flowers yesterday and Nina’s visit today at the temple of Shatabhishak are intimately connected. At the time of my birth, the planet Mercury was in the Nakshatra of Shatabhishak.
While the group is circling the temple, I go to the Goddess altar and feel her strong, heart-expanding energy. I sit and meditate with the geo orb to charge the essence. Swami comes to the altar and is curious about what I am doing and wants to touch the geo. This is a big first. None of the other Swamis have asked to hold the orb. He holds it briefly with interest while I take the crystals from their velvet pouches. Swami takes the crystals to be energized next to the Goddess statue. Back at the hotel, I place the bottle of herbs on the altar.
DAY 22 – Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram – Ardra
This is a grand and spectacular temple! It is for Ardra and the Aakash element. It is full of wisdom and knowledge. Many aspiring young boys come here for spiritual training in the temple. There is a large hall that we enter near the main altar. It is full of boys with their teachers and buzzing with chanting and discussion. I find a place off to the side to sit with the orb. The wisdom and depth of the Aakash is strongly felt and carries a highly attuned vibratory frequency.
The temple is full of Swamis that are busy preparing for an upcoming celebration. We are granted a splendid visual feast as we are guided through the temple. We take in its heightened energy, beauty and bright festive decorations. I take many lovely pictures!
DAY 23 – Pondicherry – last day.
This is the last day of the temple trip, yet I will be staying on in Pondicherry for a short while. I explore White Town, which is the French Quarter.