5 May 2018

Story of Yama Lingam—the Lord of Death

“Arunachala Siva—On the Girivalam Path” by Dr. Bharat Bhushan imagines stories at each of the Asta Lingams situated on the perimeter of the Girivalam Roadway around Arunachala. The stories have been created from memories of ancestral tales and legends and experiences of pilgrims.

The first chapter “Kubera Lingam—Lord of Wealth and Auspiciousness”, can be  read at this link here.

The second chapter “Varuna Lingam—Lord of Rain and Water” at this link here.

The third chapter “Agni Lingam—Lord of Light” at this link here.

The fourth chapter narrated in its entirety below is of “Yama Lingam—Lord of Death”.

Yama Lingam (South)

In Hindu mythology, Lord Yama or Yamraj is referred to as the god of death. The word Yama stands for twin brother and Lord Yama is Son of Lord Surya and Sanjana. Yama is also known as the lord of justice and is sometimes referred to as Dharma, in reference to his commitment to sustain order.

In the Upanishad, Lord Yama is depicted as a teacher and is father of Yudhisthira, the eldest brother of the five Pandavas. It is believed that lord Yama incarnated as Vidura in the Mahabharata period. Lord Yama is the definitive controller of lord Shiva and lord Vishnu. He is supposed to carry a huge lasso with which he drags each being at the time of death to face heaven or hell according to the being’s karma.

The Vahana of Lord Yama is a black water buffalo and guardian of the south direction. As one of the Arunachala girivalam asta Lingams, Yama Lingam is situated beside cremation grounds on Chengam road.

The dominant Navagraha of this Lingam is, Mangala (Mars). Yama is portrayed sitting on his mount, a powerful black buffalo named Mahishan with two  monstrous dogs by his side. Devotees get rid of their financial constraints worshipping the Yama Lingam. Worshipping at this Lingam is also conducive for addressing karmic constraints and ensuring longevity of life span.

Arunachala Shiva!!!

Let death return everyone, to you …

“Arunachala!” He called out, “pray, give me strength, to seek you, again and again!”

Dinesh was tired and called out, in his mind, to the sacred Arunachala, to give him strength while on the Girivalam. He smiled at the priest at the Yama Lingam temple and thanked him as he received blessings from the sacred camphor fire. Why did he call out in such a manner, he wondered, for this was only the second of the ashtalingams on the Girivalam route, and he had to visit the other six, not including the Surya and Chandra Lingams. Upon completion, he would also go to visit Shiva at the Tiruvannamalai temple, one of the five pancha-bhoota-lingams.

The elderly priest of the Yama Lingam temple smiled at Dinesh, and began to close the doors to the inner sanctum. It was almost noon and it was time to get some rest. He would find it difficult to keep walking on the Girivalam route, and it would be sensible to rest it out in the outer sanctum of the Yama Lingam temple, Dinesh thought. This was his first attempt to take the sacred walk around the holy Arunachala at Tiruvannamalai. Against all advice, he had started his walk on the Girivalam route at 9.00 am. After a prayer at the Agni Lingam temple and a brief stop and visit to Sri Ramanashram, he had barely made it in time for the prayers at the Yama Lingam temple.

It was too hot outside, in this summer month. “Take some rest here,” said the priest, “Take a small nap or chant your beads in offering to Arunachala. Do not go out in the sun.” Dinesh was thankful, and watched the old priest settle down on the running seat-ledges that were all around the open outer sanctum of the Yama Lingam temple. 25 year-old Dinesh bowed to the old priest in respect, went back to the inner sanctum gate, worshipped loudly, reciting some 4-5 stotrams that he knew, picked up the sacred ash and applied it on his forehead. Taking out some money from his wallet, he pushed it into the hundi box. The priest did not watch him, intent as he was, in arranging a small coir mattress on the seat ledge and got ready to take his nap. He gestured for Dinesh to lie down or sit at the seat-ledge alongside.

It did seem very welcoming to accept the invitation. It was too hot outside, and he could see that the road was totally deserted except for a random vehicle going towards Tiruvannamalai. Dinesh went to one of the seat-ledges, rolled out a towel that he had brought with him, placed his small handbag as a head cushion and lay down, hoping to get some rest. He was worried. This was a temple, and any which way that one would lie down, the direction of the feet may be disrespectful. Disturbed, he sat up, and quietly kept chanting, “Arunachala! Arunachala! Arunachala!” He thought it may be best to imitate the priest and keep his feet in a similar direction, pointing away from the sanctum, and away from the sacred peak of Arunachala.

Some mendicants were also resting in the open sanctum of the Yama Lingam temple. On the shaded outer areas, there were some buffaloes resting alongside the wall. They seemed content, resting in the shade, waiting it out through their noon siesta. As he watched, from the scrub forests near the temple, a huge buffalo came waddling slowly, followed by a tall cowherd, an elderly looking man, swarthy, and dressed only in his loin cloth. His head was covered in some sort of a headgear, and complete with his huge bristling handlebar moustache, he was quite a fearsome character.

The huge buffalo came to rest with the other ones, along the shaded side of the Yama Lingam temple. The fearsome looking cowherd walked into the open sanctum of the temple and chose to sit on the seat-ledge alongside of the one where Dinesh was seated. Feeling a strange sort of panic, Dinesh kept chanting silently. Up close, he could see that the fearsome looking cowherd was a very normal person, a local villager, and not at all frightening in any manner. Dinesh had seen many such cowherds in Madurai rural areas (his native place) and relaxed. The tall cowherd glanced at Dinesh, examined him closely and made him out to be a pilgrim on the Girivalam route.

Instantly, on impulse, he asked, “Enna? Why are you out on the Girivalam in this hot mid-afternoon? See, even my buffaloes have need for shade and rest at such times. Take some rest. Go to sleep. Go afterwards, in the evening. You will be able to walk easily and you can worship Arunachala with more devotion. Go to sleep, now!” It seemed almost like a command, and Dinesh immediately obeyed. The tall cowherd also did the same, and went off into a snoring slumber.

Dinesh drifted off into sleep. His dreams were floating from one perspective to the other. He kept imagining himself on the Girivalam route, walking along with the priest from the Yama Lingam temple. After a while, he dreamt that the mendicants were walking along with him, and later, they were all riding the buffaloes. The mendicants disappeared soon after, and the tall cowherd was walking along with him. This dream was followed by a vision of the tall cowherd astride the really huge buffalo. In his dreams, the tall cowherd was beginning to get larger and larger, and the buffalo was also becoming enormous. The cowherd was saying something, and since Dinesh did not answer, he was being shaken by the shoulder.

He woke up with a start, and indeed, the tall cowherd was standing alongside, and shaking him by the shoulder. Alarmed, Dinesh sat up and asked about the matter. The tall cowherd said, “Thambi, you were calling out in your sleep. You seemed to be having some fearful dream. See, your prayer beads have also slipped out from your hands and fallen on the ground. Pick them up. Drink some water.” Calmer, Dinesh picked up the prayer beads and had some water from the bottle that he carried. Wanting to share, he offered the bottle of water to the tall cowherd and also passed on a couple of small bananas. The tall cowherd accepted the water and bananas with a smile and said a word of blessing to Dinesh, and went back to sleep.

Dinesh tried to sleep, and surprisingly found that he was able to easily go back to deep slumber. The fear factor of the tall cowherd was gone and he began to dream about himself, about his family and his native Madurai. He could see events in his life in a very clear manner, and he found himself wandering into the actual happenings. He saw his childhood in Mumbai, Chennai and Madurai, and saw his relatives, friends and neighbours. He saw himself wandering through the various schools and classes where he had studied, and watched himself playing cricket with his only brother and friends.

It was strange, as he could see himself, as an elder person, 25 years old, and he could see the other aspect of himself, as a five year old, or as a ten year old. He could see his father, grandfather and aunts and uncles and similarly, he could see his brother at different ages. There were people who were no longer with him now, and they had passed on to a higher plain during the past many years. He could see them, as though they were alive, and he could watch them talking to him, when he was at a younger age. Dinesh felt very happy and content, and wanted to continue to sleep, and did not want to wake up. It was amazing, and it felt very real. Those who had passed on, were very much active and real, within his sleep and inside his dreams.

Feeling pleasant, but disturbed at the various images, Dinesh woke up. He was back in the open sanctum of the Yama Lingam temple and nothing had changed. He was as yet a 25 year old young man, and his prayer beads were with him. The tall cowherd was sitting nearby, eating the bananas, watching his buffaloes. The huge buffalo was walking about and changing its location. It seemed as though that the huge buffalo wanted to be able to see the tall cowherd from where he sat down. The elderly tall cowherd noticed the fact that Dinesh had woken up and was sitting in a disturbed manner, and he came nearby and asked him, “Enna Thambi, what’s wrong? Why are you looking sad and depressed? What happened?”

Dinesh thought to himself. What the heck! It would not harm anything by talking to this cowherd. He does not know me, and I do not know him. I can talk to him about anything and walk away on the Girivalam route, and that will be the end of this relationship. So, he replied, “Thatha, it is nothing. I was dreaming about my younger days when I slept. I dreamt about people and I dreamt about those who were no longer alive. But, in the dreams, they were all present and it seemed that they were very much alive. I was talking to them, as a younger person, but I was also present there, as an elder person. I could see that there were two images of myself. It was very strange, and I felt disturbed. I woke up, suddenly.”

The elderly tall cowherd smiled, and said, “Thambi, why do you get frightened? You should feel happy, that you were just able to go to sleep for such a short while, and spent time with your loved ones. I can only see my buffaloes in my sleep, and that huge one out there, even in my sleep, keeps pushing me and keeps asking me for something or the other. I have tried beating him up in my sleep, but he is very shameless. In real life, I have never beaten him. He is a very lovable character and very intelligent. But in my sleep, he is a big idiot. I am always very terrified of going to sleep. But, you should consider yourself to be very lucky.”

Dinesh smiled and watched the huge buffalo moving about. It was amusing to think of the buffalo as a peaceful character in real life, when it did not look like one at all, and to think of it as an unpleasant character in a dream, was really intriguing. The elderly tall cowherd was also looking at the buffalo and smiling. How would one actually dream about a buffalo? Dinesh asked the elderly tall cowherd, “You really see your buffalo in the dream? Do you talk to him? Does he talk back to you?”

The cowherd laughed loudly, and replied, “Yes. Sometimes he talks to me. I talk to him. I wonder what happens in his dreams. In mine, he comes to me and asks me to return home, and tells me that I should go back to my family. But, I have no family. For many years, I am alone. This huge buffalo is all that I have. The other buffaloes are not mine. They belong to different families in the village. I move around nearby. We get food when we get it, and there are small food cafes on the Girivalam route, and they know us, and we get our food from them. We do not have to pay them.”

Amazed, Dinesh asked, “You have nobody? What about your family? They must be somewhere. Your buffalo is your only companion? Wow. You are almost like me, then. My only close relative is my brother. I have no other brothers or sisters. But, my brother is away from me, married and settled well. He has his own life to take care of. I lost my mother when I was just an infant and my younger brother was only a toddler. I do not know what happened. Everyone tells me a different story. I have come to the stage where I do not know who to believe and what to believe. I am happy with myself.”

The elderly tall cowherd looked genuinely concerned at Dinesh’s story. He commented, “Arunachala! O Arunachala! What is this? You are so young. Your life has not even begun. I have lived something that must be more than a hundred years, I think. I do not even remember when I was born. I do not need any family now. But, you! You have not even started on your life. You do not know your mother, at all? For me, I do not remember my mother, but I know that she was there sometime in my life, and I remember her in my youth, but I cannot picture her. But, I am happy for her, and for her memory, because I know that she was happy when she was alive.”

Dinesh smiled, and nodded in agreement. He wondered as to why it was so easy to talk to with strange elderly man, sitting in nothing but a loincloth, accompanied by a huge buffalo who was grazing nearby. What was it that made him talk to such a stranger on the first instance, and he could not as yet talk to his various uncles and aunts who had taken care of him and his brother through their younger days? Nobody had denied them anything. They had been made to feel as though they were part of each family that they had lived with at some period of their lives. They had been as equal to the children of their uncles and aunts and never made to feel inferior. Why was he talking to this strange man about all this?

Dinesh said, “You know, you are very correct when you said that you are only able to talk to your buffalo. I am not even that lucky. I have no memory of my mother. I do not know about my younger brother. He was smaller than me. Whenever I sleep, and when I dream, I can see my cousins, and my uncles and aunts, and they are all as pleasant in my dreams as they are when I am awake. Nobody every denied us anything. My mother’s brothers and sisters have always taken care of whatever we would want. We have attended the best schools and colleges.”

“Sometimes, I try. I try to seek out my mother in my sleep. Sometimes, I try to create an image of her. But, I fail every time. What do you do, Thatha? Can you pull back memories of your mother? At least you know that she existed,” Dinesh asked, “Once I asked my brother, but I feel that he is luckier than me. He is fortunate because he would have no impression. Now he is married, and he has a child, and he would see the relationship between the child and the mother. He will see the love and he will see the demands made by the child. He will see how the mother rushes to satisfy the child. I keep thinking about what my brother would be thinking.”

The elderly tall cowherd replied, thoughtfully, “Thambi, I know what is it that you are asking, but I have no answers. I am not an educated person. Several people had tried to put me in a school, but I would always run away and keep roaming about with my buffaloes. Through my life, the only single aspect that I remember about myself is that, I have always had a buffalo with me! I keep talking to myself, and sometimes, people think that I am mindless, but my buffalo has no problems with my behavior. I have learnt a simple trick when I get sad and depressed when asleep. I wake up very fast, and I walk around. I do not continue to sleep. If you do that, you are at the edge of terrible impulses.”

Dinesh sat quietly, thinking, and thought—why not … let’s see what this man says about my innermost fears. He asked, “There are times, sometimes when I have woken up and been scared. I am all alone, and I see everyone taking care of their families. I feel the loneliness and the pain of being alone in my thoughts. My uncles and aunts may be thinking that I have grown up and that I am a married man, and I should be left alone. But, I am indeed alone inside my mind. Sometimes, I feel that I should just go away, and sometimes, I feel that this life is not worth living. I should just put an end to it.”

The elderly tall cowherd spoke angrily, “What sort of nonsense is that? Your life is not yours. Your life belongs to Arunachala. Even death has no control over your life. Do you know that? Give yourself up, to Arunachala. You have no right to give up on yourself, by your own decisions. We will come and go, and many more generations will come and go. Before the first man was born, there was Arunachala. Talk to him, when in doubt, and talk to him, when happy. He is the cause of your happiness. He is the cause of your worries, because he wants you to see deep within yourself. There is no sadness or depression in life. It is the manner in which you see yourself.”

“Do not at any moment think that you can give up on yourself, and give up on your life,” the elderly cowherd said, standing up, and waving his hands at the sacred peak of Arunachala, “Look at the Girivalam and learn from it today. When you walk, you start at the beginning. But, what is the reason that you walk on the Girivalam? It is not in homage to Arunachala alone that you walk on this sacred path. You walk, and so do hundreds of thousands who come here, you walk, in order to return to the beginning.

Every aspect has a beginning, and the path has only purpose. It is to take you back to the beginning. When you realize that, you know the truth. You are on the path, to reach the beginning of another journey. That’s all. It is that simple. There is never any end, for Maheshwara, Arunachala, Shiva, is waiting, even in death, to return you to the beginning of another path.”

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