February 6, 2013
by Sandra Anderson
We’re sitting on the floor of Nageshvara Mandir in the small village just outside the Institute gates. Mandir is usually translated as a temple or shrine; but temple is such a grand word, and shrine has connotations of a religious person, or a place of pilgrimage. Neither words quite fit the humble one-room Nageshvara Mandir, home of a shiva lingam, a large black oval-shaped stone. Shiva lingams are common in temples and shrines all over India. This one enshrines Nageshvara, the Lord of the Nagas, an aspect of Lord Shiva.
One of the charming features of India is the plethora of simple and readily accessible places of worship. While famous shrines may be well-populated with priests, pundits, and formalities, more modest mandirs are everywhere—a tree in the courtyard of an apartment complex, a hut at the intersection of roads in a neighborhood, or tucked into a niche along a footpath.
Occasionally we see a pandit or swami here at Nageshvara, but no one asks for donations, no one intercedes on our behalf, and all are free to participate in whatever way suits us. The local villagers come morning and evening offering flowers, water and prayers to the lingam. If you arrive empty handed, don’t be surprised if someone gives you a flower and gestures you to make an offering; or inspires you to join in a simple chant.
This morning a woman shows her little boy how to offer a flower and water, silently placing a marigold on the lingam, and then on a statute of Ganesha and Nandi, the image of the bull which is Lord Shiva’s vehicle. I recall a verse from the Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna tells Arjuna,
“patram, pushpam, phalam, toyam, yo me bhaktya prayacchati….whoever offers me a leaf, a flower, a fruit, water with devotion; I accept that gift of a person of controlled self, offered with devotion.”
Give according to your capacity, Swami Rama writes in his commentary on this verse. “Any selfless action performed is a devotion to the Lord.”
Historically this whole region is the provenance of Nageshvara, and one of the five altars of Brahma’s original yajna or sacrificial ceremony at the sangam was located here. The original sacrifice was done at the request of Vishnu to reestablish balance and harmony in the physical world. Since then the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna has been a site of pilgrimage, prayer and practice.
This morning we are happy to be part of the stream of pilgrims paying homage to the divine everywhere vividly present—in the rivers, the hand of a child, a roadside shrine, and our own hearts and minds.