My faith in him is deeply personal and has nothing to do with religion or rituals. As a child, he was my God for no particular reason -- just that I found his face very kind and understanding. As an adult I worship him for particular reasons -- he is a cool God who smokes, who drinks, who shakes a leg whenever mood strikes, and whose persuasive powers when it comes to certain matters are so strong that even Vishnu succumbed to them and assumed the form of Mohini. Above all, he is the founder of yoga.
During my travels, if someone mentions a Shiva temple, especially an obscure or a very popular one, I make it a point to stop by. The idea is always to meditate and seek inner peace but that never happens thanks to the pimps who don't want you to linger there unless you keep giving them money. What's the point going to God's abode if you have to stand in a long queue, cough up money at every point, and finally when you manage a glimpse of God, you are shoved aside so that the next person can get a view. What for? Perhaps to pray, in those fraction of seconds: "God, please get my daughter married this year! Please, please please!"
But during my recent visit to Mysore, I finally found what I had been looking for. There is God indeed.
About a kilometre or two from the Chamunda Devi temple sits the gigantic Nandi bull. If you stand by the bull, you get an excellent view of Mysore city. At that spot, under a rock, is a cave temple dedicated to Shiva. You might not even notice the temple unless you are told about it. The entrance is so low you have to bend to get in. I bent and put one leg in, only to realise to there was no space inside. The temple cannot hold more than eight people. Maybe 10. I took that leg out and waited.
Two visitors came out and I went in. I sat before a modestly decorated Shivalingam, and in the background a techno version of chants was playing. The volume was high enough for me to get turned on, but low enough not to disturb the half a dozen Westerners meditating there. What a sight watching them meditate. One of them, however, had her eyes open, and they were filled with tears -- as if she had met her son after 20 years.
And then there was the priest -- a very unsual one. Unlike the white-robed ones who extract money out of you, this one was elderly with a flowing white beard and dressed in saffron. He could have been a yogi from the Himalayas. He sat there upright and silent, holding a plate of mishri (tiny sugar cubes) and extending it to those who had finished with their prayers.
I sat down to meditate, but the music -- currently the Hanumatstotrani was playing -- was overpowering and so was the sight of the eldest of the Westerners meditating. He was so engrossed that you could have run away with his shirt. I realised I was not fit for the place. Before leaving I asked the priest softly: "What's the CD you are playing?" He replied, very gently: "It's called Veer Hanuman."
I promised myself to return again and also to buy the CD, and got into the car, which was to take me to the Bangalore. My companion said there was another Shiva temple -- 10 minutes before the Bangalore airport. The drive from Mysore to Bangalore was completed in just over two hours, and believe me, Chennai's East Coast Road pales before this highway. But once we hit Bangalore, it took us another two hours to reach the Shiva temple near the airport. You have to invent a new name for traffic in Bangalore, because traffic is something that moves, and in Bangalore it doesn't.
Anyway, we reached the temple with just about enough time for me to catch the flight. It's next to Kids Kemp, on the Airport Road. I am, in fact, ashamed to call it a temple. It's a money-making machine. In any case, it's machines that move everything here -- be it pumping water (read Ganga) out of the hairlock of the giant Shiva that overlooks its premises, or making a fake cobra hiss furiously or bringing to life a dead cow whose is supposed to be the benefactor of Shiva's miracle. At one place even Shiva's hand moves back and forth in blessing, or aashirwaad.
Such 'moving' miracles you find in a narrow man-made cave, to enter which you have to pay Rs 10, and your ticket is checked by a pansy young man who happens to have a revolver tucked in his trouser (al-Qaeda threat?). Once you come out of the cave, you can buy a 'special' gold coin, make a wish and throw it into a pool so that your wish could come true. My greatest wish, at the moment, was to get out of the 'temple'. Which I did, well in time to catch my flight.
Back in Chennai, I hunted for Veer Hanuman. At times music comes to you on a platter, at times you have to seek it like you were seeking God. I hunted for the CD whole of last night and this morning. And as I am writing this, while downing my evening quota of drinks, I have listened to the Hanumatstotrani over a hundred times. Faith does pay off, so long you are not rigid, such as enjoying a Hanuman song in a Shiva temple. I am going to Mysore again.