By Rachna Singh Chopra
Eighty kilometers from the Bangalore metropolis, and just about 3 km outside the city of Mysore, the ancient Goddess Chamundeshwari has, for centuries, been residing on a rocky hill at a height of 1065 meters. Possibly because she can view the whole of her kingdom from this pivotal point and from where the whole of Mysore can see her!
As the train halted at Mysore and as I boarded an auto-rickshaw, the first thing to hold my sight was this hill. Magnificent, completely at ease with itself, and full of authority. Its sweeping contours and faint lights extending a clear audible invitation that beckoned.
I manoeuvred my way right up till its base, and checked into the silence of a cottage at the Swami Ganapathi Sachchidananda ashram, where the only sound I heard at night after regular intervals was that of a cuckoo! And in the morning, that of the Vedic chants emerging from the Veda Pathshala.
This was an ideal halt, as I needed some time to shed my city skin, slow down my pace, and prepare myself for the darshan of the Goddess. In the vicinity of the ashram, my mind initially began to whirl, like a cloud restless to shed its weight. But eventually immersed itself in prayer and contemplation. And finally, it gave up all resistance and became as quiet as its surroundings.
Thinking now seemed to be an unfair act of churning turbulence that would disturb the serenity of the environment. Being alone, just with oneself was at first hard but soon became soft and joyous, and soon enough began to drip with nectar. I was ready.
Up a flight of thousand granite steps (built by the Maharaja Dodda Devaraja in 1659), cutting across a village inhabitation (Devarajapura, where the Brahmins in charge live); and a thick forest, and I was almost at the doorstep of the Goddess Chamundeshwari.
The view from the hilltop is a superb panorama of the city, and one can get dizzy seeing it all from above-the lakes, temples and churches down below. But soon a huge monolith 16-foot granite statue of Nandi snatches one’s attention. Nandi keeps a watch at the ancient Shiva temple.
A colorful image of Mahishasura with a snake in one hand and adagger in the other reminds one of the battle that ensued long ago between this demon King and the ferocious form of Parvathi-Chamundi Devi.
The female trinity of Hindu theology is represented by Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati-the goddesses of wealth, strength and knowledge respectively. Of these three, it is principally Shiva’s consort Parvati who incarnated from time to time as Kamakshi, Meenakshi and Visalakshmi. Markandeya Puran recounts how when the asuras (demons) acquired evil powers through penance and started to arouse the wrath of the gods, this beautiful form of Parvati was incarnated.
The demon King Mahishasura was enticed to marry this beautiful maiden; who announced that she would only wed the man who defeated her in battle. Thus a battle ensued, and the saviour Goddess, slaying the demons, came to be revered as Chamundeshwari.
As I approached the resplendent Goddess, the presiding deity of the Wodeyar kings, the adored Goddess of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, the dear one of Vishnu Vardhana (12th Century Hoysala ruler) and 17th century Vijaynagar rulers alike, I searched my heart to see what divine offering it carried. I felt, in its fold, only a readiness. A fearless readiness to let go of all that holds it back from Truth.
I walked humbly up till Her golden throne, and nearing Her frame adorned in exquisite gold jewellery and amour, I surrendered my quivering heart to Her wrathful form, praying: “Mother, destroy the smallness in me as ruthlessly as you slayed Mahishasura!”
As her necklace inscribed with Sanskrit shlokas tinkled in response, chains trembled and loosened their hold on me. I felt a part of me released, as though from a cage, and move forth, in all its vulnerability, towards complete annihilation by Her force. As incense was lit, and evening chants filled the air, I returned, lighter in spirit for having given up a part of me.
GETTING THERE: Flight/train to Bangalore. From there a three-hour journey by bus/car or train to Mysore. The temple is accessed through a drivable road. A thousand granite stone steps are carved out for enthusiastic climbers. Auspicious days to visit are Tuesdays and Fridays.
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