You can feel the power of nature up here high on the shoulder of the hill. I had reached the summit at 6 PM. The place was empty of the usual crowds. The temple at the summit has thousand years of historical importance and is neatly maintained.
I spent time in the sanctorum witnessing the ritual bathing of the deity and hung around the complex absorbing the energy. The place has stalls selling delicious snacks flocked by people. At 9:00 PM, the deity is taken in a gold chariot around the hill in a ceremonious procession.
It was approaching mid night when I started my descent down the hill rather briskly.
I noticed someone behind me, a half-naked middle-aged man keen to pick a conversation.
“Are you climbing down?” he asked.
“Yes”, I replied as he continued to follow.
“I am normally not available after 9:00 PM and you wouldn’t find me. If you are alright, I would like to tell you couple of stories as we walk down together”, the man said.
I never said we will walk together. My instinct warned to be wary of strangers. He continued to speak without waiting for my answer.
“Let me tell you about Bhishma, the most important character in Mahabharata, next only to Krishna. Bhishma wished he should never be re-born. He very well knew all his karmas should be completely exhausted before death and he is never born again. He sacrificed his life for benefit of others and was willing to accept all sufferings that came in his way. It is very difficult to find a person like Bhishma; he had the ability to choose his time of death, making sure that he had no accumulated karmas to fulfil. This is what humans should aspire through their life journey”.
I continued to listen to him silently.
“Now let me tell you another story, and this is a longer one. It is about people who are sure to be born again and again”.
“There once was a wandering ascetic who happened to stay overnight outside a village home. The head of the family in the village home noticed the ascetic shivering in cold and helped him with a rug to keep him warm”.
“Next day morning, when the ascetic was about to leave, he thanked the man for his kindness the previous night and said he would like to return the favour”.
“The man said he did not want anything in return and was only helping someone in need. However, the ascetic insisted his desire to return the favour”.
“The ascetic then said, ‘I will give you enlightenment’ “.
“The man hesitated for a while. He then said ‘Sir, I thank you for your kind words, but I think I am not yet ready. I recently married. I have the responsibility to look after my wife. Please return after seven years and I will be ready for enlightenment’ ”.
“Seven years had passed. The ascetic promptly arrived as per the man’s wish. However, the man looked worried. He said ‘Sir, I have two young children now. They will suffer along with my wife if I accept enlightenment. I would like to wait until they grow older and I then should be ready. Could you please come after seven years?’ ”.
“The ascetic returned after seven years. The man looked worried. He said ‘my children have grown up and are teenagers now. They are lazy and have become rouges. They don’t listen to me anymore and trouble me. I would like to see them married so that their wives can mend their ways. I will complete this responsibility and should be ready in another ten years”.
“The ascetic once again returned ten years later. He could not find the man in his house. He enquired with the neighbours as to the whereabouts of the man. The neighbours said he died few years back. The ascetic saw a calf tied near the door of the house. Through his divine vision, he came to know that the man is reborn as a cow. The ascetic felt disappointed. He never had the opportunity to return the man’s favour”.
“Several years had passed and it happened one day the ascetic was passing through the same village. He was curious to know about the cow. He walked into their village home to enquire with the man’s children who were now grown up”.
“Sir, the cow died last year, and we are sad about it’, they said, ‘It used to work so hard for the family and now it is gone”.
“Suddenly the ascetic noticed a movement in the cowshed and found a cobra. He at once knew the cow is reborn as a cobra. The man’s children saw the cobra and panicked; they took sticks and before the ascetic could prevent anything, killed the cobra with a few sharp thuds on its head. The ascetic cried, ‘you fool, you have killed your father! He was protecting a treasure that he had buried long back under the cow shed, his hard-earned savings. You grew up as rouges and your father wanted to give the treasure to you when you had mended your ways. He was trying to do it birth after birth and now you have killed him. You can take the treasure but ensure you live your life in the right way’. He ascetic walked away”.
The man was so attached to his wealth and family, and hence he was repeatedly reborn at the same location of his attachment. There is no running away from consequences, people have to face them”.
The stories were absorbing. We had reached the foot of the hill. He ended, ‘I am normally not available after 9:00 PM. I found you and wanted to tell you the stories and you seemed very eager to listen’, after which he strolled away “.
I was hungry and noticed a roadside idly shop. The person was inviting me to taste the steaming hot idlys. I didn’t mind and savoured along with a bottle of cool water.
Divinity arrives in all forms.