The ancient Tamils cultivated a worshipful culture, now it is one of the oldest living cultures in the world. Every full moon up to a million pilgrims visit Tiruvannamalai with the express wish to walk around Arunachala.
In the mid seventies I can testify to full moon pradakshina being a silent experience shared by a small number of residents, mostly from ashrams. That was before Rajni Kanth made a film in which he claimed that all desires will be fulfilled for those who take the hill round roadway on full moon. From then the Full Moon Arunachala experience became Carnivale: now Free Food is consumed in vast quantities by pilgrims who can buy just about anything on the way around. Roadside shrines have become lucrative sources of income and new PilgrimTraps continue to sprout.
The sweet little statue of Ramalingam – a healer all his short noble life, lived not far from here; it was surrounded by dumped construction rubble in an undignified manner that only enhanced the chaste simplicity of the statue:
This photo was taken two days before FullMoon, soon after my return from Australia, feeling saddened by the collateral damage of Progress. Next morning early passing by I was stunned to see pieces of smashed statue lying around the head, face down in the dust; i gently turn the head over:
The yellow stuff staining the face wasn’t turmeric, it was human excrement.
Reeling, nauseous, I became aware that the lingam/yoni was also fouled; never had such an offensive gesture been drawn to my attention, not in a thirty year acquaintance with this worshipful culture. It revealed savage cultural isolation, bankruptcy of basic human kindness, total abnegation of The Golden Rule. This event was truly sickening.
During that day I met with three persons of authority in the community, each of whom I reported all this. The first said he would call the police, the second speculated upon whose fault the lapse in Security lay, and the third remarked on the ‘evil’ in our midst. The dysfunctional home/alcoholic father/flunked or maybe entirely absent schooling, adolescent encounters with police, negligence or total absence of role models, the pressure, the envy, the vindictiveness, the pain – the pain of all the world – didn’t penetrate their responses, not at all. In the common and garden Hindu world view ones pain is ones own fault.
But then, after a riotous FullMoon, look what met my morning walk:
Since the jasmine garland is just the right size for the head on shoulders, and the pretty cloth just the right size for the Lingam/Yoni, we can conjecture that pilgrims came prepared for adoration of this unpretentious little group. Shocked – no doubt, as they drew near, they continued with their worship. Either they didn’t notice the offensive smell (there’s so much shit around here at FullMoon who would notice?!) or they knew very well what had happened and carried on despite the defilement because god is great. This would be fitting for other than high caste Hindus.
Somewhere in the profound levels of ancient Hindu wisdom is the notion that what is important is not the object of worship, it is the worship itself.
PostScript: within a few nights a good soaking rain washed the face and lingam clean of excrement; in this world where change is the only constant, in this culture where ruins are everywhere paying homage to Time, what happened is not important.
Here’s a PS: