Kauai monks and TAKA correspondents reporting from Sakthi Amma's Sripuram, Vellore, India.
Shakti, God Siva's energy, is evident at Sripuram. Shakti herself is here, in love of people, in the vibration of the pulsating murtis at beautiful temples, in the founder herself, Sakthi Amma.
Late last night we had a profound and at the same time leisurely meeting with Amma, a round-faced Tamil who is, in the eyes of thousands, Goddess Narayani Herself -- hence the feminine pronoun when referring to this man, focusing on her inner nature, not his external form. (You can read more in the article about Sripuram here).
Sakthi Amma felt like an old dear friend, a mature traveler on the spiritual path, with whom we could talk about things that are dear to monks like us. Many subjects came and went; we barely noticed time passing. Then Amma asked us if we perform go puja -- worship of our cows. We do not, we said. For the next ten minutes, Amma, visibly excited and thrilled, explained why we should, in a mystical way we had never cognized or imagined.
Cows, Amma said, in most situations are nothing but milk-giving gentle beasts. The latent power of a cow, however, is to offer not only milk but shakti, proving an energy of abundance, success and prosperity. Amma intimated that, at a monastery or spiritual institution, invoking that power was specially important, generating riches and the energy for all of the many different projects. Coming from a person who clad her temple in solid gold, I do not doubt this advice for a second.
On a different level, Gurudeva offered similar advice, saying that only when a wife is treated like a goddess, loved as the queen of the home, does she abundantly flow out her shakti to her husband, making him confident, successful and powerful.
On the next day, under Amma's orders, we went to see a go puja. At Sripuram, things happen in what they call "Amma time," a fluid state in which any appointment is fixed until she changes it, which she does all the time according to her own intuition. It is not a chaotic system, but rather quite fluid. And so it was that our 10:30am appointment with the cow became a 7:30am meeting, because Amma gracefully remembered we preferred to leave early for the long drive to Bangalore.
At the appointed time, there was Mahalakshmi, Amma's chosen cow, the only one to receive the daily honor. She was chosen for her beauty, her round horns, her friendliness and the ability to be motionless during the puja. Mahalakshmi stood in front of the small Narayani Temple, surrounded by three priests. The sound of drums, tavlas and nadaswaras electrified the air, giving it the feel of a festival. At the same time that the go puja was happening, priests worshiped Goddess Narayani in Her sanctum.
Mahalakshmi is a remarkable creature, soft in manners and demeanor. She stands quiet if not still, gently moving her head and legs once in a while, eyes-half closed in bovine contemplation. She does not ask for food, or demand attention, or walk away. We watch as priests gently paint her with freshly ground sandalwood paste and kumkum, anointing her horns in yellow paste and sandalwood oil. Mahalakshmi is the most nonchalant cow we have ever seen, and according to Amma, she has always been like that, an unperturbed divine bovine from her first day in the office of being venerated as a vessel for the Goddess' abundance. Music blasts, huge drums roll, bells deafen us; but Mahalakshmi was unperturbed.
After the decorations, the three priests put a beautiful cloth on her colorful back and offer her flowers, singing mantras in loud Sanskrit. Mahalakshi, well-behaved, does not try to eat the flowers, or the cloth. I am not sure we were following the etiquette as perfectly as she.
Sadasivanathaswami waved the arati in front of the serene cow, followed by a group of women who, their many hands holding the tray simultaneously, also venerated the tranquil boon-giver. We then circumambulated her three times, as if doing pradakshina around a temple. Oh, Hinduism, in which everything is sacred, in which God can be in any and all things.
Mahalakshi then ate a large amount of sweets, offered atop a banana leaf.
As soon as the puja ended, astounded by the simple charm of the experience, we were taken to the main shrine of the temple, where puja to Narayani was at its last stages. To Her right is Lord Ganesha and to Her left Subramanian, just like at Kadavul. The shakti that She emanates is full, loving, round and embracing, nothing like the sharp, piercing energy we feel at most Devi temples. We stay for the final arati, admiring the masterful craftsmanship of the sanctum wooden door, the beautiful adornments in gold; but most of all we bask in Her love and power.
That was our last moment of adoration at Sripuram. Soon, we were on the road towards Bangalore. But we brought Shakti with us, no doubt.