We arise early at Suttur Mutt, and head for the temple, through the rajagopuram doors
There is a flag raising. We have had to await the arrival of a chariot, and then the dvaja goes up with chanting, fanfare and a few speeches. The sanctum is marvelously decorated with tens of thousands of fresh flowers. A Nandi is there and behind him the murthi of the mutt's founder, Shivaratree Shivayogi Mahaswamiji, who founded it over a thousand years back. We dared not ask about photography, but one of the organizers invited us to grab our iPhone and shoot. The founder was a great yogi. In his left hand is the Ishtalinga which all Lingayats wear, and worship daily. God is within, they say, and that is where He is worshipped. The crowds gather, some 250,000 today. The streets are not large enough and there is a crush of humanity, and in the middle of it all a series of dances and musicians and performers. We are told this annual festival is all the entertainment many will have the rest of the year. It is their TV and Internet and movies all rolled into one. So they are eager and crush close for a view. Police on horseback aggressively push the crowds back as they press forward against the barriers. The horses get a lot of respect when they come near. It is a cacophony of sounds, to which are added portable loudspeakers on wheeled carts, each blaring a different tune.
Suddenly the 250 couples who will soon be married parade through the crush. Their every expense has been covered. There are some blind grooms and disabled brides, who may never have pondered marriage were it not for Swamiji's initiative. Brahmacharis chant at every event. Sitting here with a swami, who name is Sadasivanatha Swami.
Your name: I answer Sadasivanathaswami.
Yes, but your name is? Again, Sadasivanathaswami.
I know, but what is your own name? Swami, I too am Sadasivanathaswami.
Disbelief, followed by understanding. Oh, I see. Two of us! Swami whisks us into a car and off to a nearby temple, just three minutes by car. Tavil and nagasvaram greet us. It's a Chola temple, and was renovated by our own V. Ganapati Sthapati some 8 years back. It feels every bit a 1,000 year old sacred home for Siva. We are told the temple's story. Rajaraja Chola was feuding with a local king. Rajaraja came with his army, and before engaging the enemy saw Shivaratree Shivayogi, who was meditating on a rock in the middle of the nearby Kavari River. Instantly, Rajaraja heard the Aum, the high-eee in his head, and was transfixed by the mystical sound. The experience and Sivayogi's presence resolved the kingly dispute and in appreciation Rajaraja Chola asked the yogi to come with him, but Shivayogi refused. So Rajaraja Chola built this temple to express gratitude and to make sure he would stay here.
We meet later with renowned teacher and iconoclastic character, Vasudev, who later invited us to share lunch with him. Wonderful, odd, wide-ranging conversations ensued. Then off to the mass wedding. Held in a small Indian tent, about two acres. Hardly room for another person inside. We are taken to the stage and speeches ensue. I sit next to Sujita Ghandi Kulkarni, the lively granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi. A lovely child-like lady of great intelligence and insight. She gives me a fan to keep cool, and says she must give it because it's hard enough for an Indian to become a true Hindu, and she can't imagine how we did it!
I am the only one on stage with an iPad and iPhone, and the photographers love that little fact. I use my Dermandar app to capture this pano of the room from my seat on the stage. Afterwards we walk completely around the room, blessing each couple with a handful of rice. Then off to a place we can take a final group photo with the couples. This is about half of them. The day is yet young, so off we go. Vasu driving the car and telling little jokes along the way.
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