But before finding Brahma Kamal, Nara had to go through the forests where Pandavas once roamed.
The mighty heros of the Indian Epic, Mahabharata. Who after defeating the Kauravas, after slaying their own uncles, brothers, friends in a battle that went on for 18 days, not night. The rule was to rest and sleep in the night; until Pandava’s sons were murdered. The rage from there onwards became the reason to kill; not merely win. The carnage started then. Pandavas killed each Kaurava till the last count one by one.
It was a bitter victory.
Pandavas went on to rule for 36 years. But the guilt of killing their own kept breathing in their minds. Pride over the years melt into feeling sinful. As sharp pangs of remorse led the Pandavas to leave their kingdom they had won; leaving their worldly clothes, ornaments, and even their weapons; to find eternal peace, to attain Moksha. It was during this search on their way to heaven, while walking for years in the mountains; numerous stories, symbols and structures were established. Amongst which some can still be seen today; handful of big stone-structured temples, high in the higher Himalayas, above the garden of herbs, above the meadows and forests, even above the clouds.
It was in the winters of 2016, exactly five years ago, when the Pandava Forests first called me to the Kedar Mountains. An Anthropologist from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University had found my work in Rajasthan with the Manganiyar Community ‘fascinating’. She wrote to me explaining about the study she has been doing on the cultural history of crowd gatherings in the Himalayas and asked me, if I could help her document the findings.
For Twenty-Six December days I walked from one mountain village to the other without ever touching a road. It was a pilgrimage of Magic. One that involved invoking spirits in humans, every night after Sun would set. We witnessed 1000 year old rituals being performed, as people from villages far walked for hours to reach these on the mountain tops; to hear, see and pray quietly to the energies, to the sound and the direction of the wind over ancient hymns being sung for those many nights.
I remember once while on our way to a village on the mountain top, night had fallen and we were passing through a forest. It was cold. We were breathing heavily and had taken a halt when I realised a whole world of fireflies had started surrounding us. Forest had brought stars for us. So many that I could even see owls roosting in the dense evergreens above us. Uncanny. It felt something more, surreal. Till about that moment when they abnormally started pushing us to walk away. Like putting all there might to show us something or save us from something. Thousands of them in a line followed us further up for a while, gleaming at their brightest when all of a sudden they left. The light left. The forest grew again. The sound of the night came back. Dark. Alone. As if the soul just left. But somewhere far, deep inside amongst hundreds of trees, a small fire could be seen, placed as if it was a human’s work. We walked. Few people were sitting around it. They looked different. Unlike locals as they sat still and made no sound or gesture. More it looked that they were there for a purpose, a ritual. Lets let them be, Amita said. I could not immediately find our path up but made sure I did not walk too close or disturb them when suddenly my feet landed into a small ditch. It unstable-d me and it made a sound. They were five. All at once looked back together like the head of a snake turns. It gave me a pang. But I stood my ground. Standing like there was nothing to hide. What I did not see from there was the sixth man, oldest of them all. Beard- cotton like white, long, floating in the wind, touching his navel. With a long wooden staff he walked very slowly towards me with his gaze querying who could I be? He looked firm yet so old that three-me put together could have only come closer to match his age that night. He came close. My head without my permission bowed in Namaste. Amita stood behind me, shaking with fear. He took my hand. The strongest grip. But it felt assuring. It felt well. He led us towards the fire and signalled to sit with others. Light beaming now on our faces.
It was breathtaking first. Heat made us comfortable. We calmed down. Yet, no one had spoken still. And I was yearning to know, even though I wasn’t in command neither i felt that they wanted to ask anything. All other kept quiet and were strangely focused in looking at the burning wood. Unblinking. Intently. Amita and I looked at each other and then towards the old man who sat far, his back towards us, preparing something as the sound of grating kept coming. The sound of some thing coming. The sound of becoming. Sound that everything was fine. We felt assured. As i happily looked over the fire towards the mountain, there was something amiss. Was I looking at the mountain or the mountain looking at me? It was gigantic, conflictingly extensive, huge, high, giant of a triangle feeling like it was standing over my head. Looking closely, whole mountain looked village-less but had seven such lights, flickering at different places positioned as if making a great bear, Saptrishi. I suddenly felt as if we are trapped. We are in a constellation; mirroring the mountain in front of us. Like I was looking at myself. It was frightening because it looked we were losing some grip over what was going on. I was still searching when I heard some steps. The elderly man was coming to us with something in his hand; hot smoke coming out of it. He extended his hand to us. I looked at him; his eyes were a deep well, un-blinking. I took the bowl. Amita denied it. I drank it. He left.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
The sap made me uneasy. I had to walk. We were standing by the time he brought that nectar, elixir or poison of the scorpions again. I bowed with hands. He, unmoved but assured me without showing anything or so I feel. We left.
In the dark again, we started walking without ever speaking about what happened, I did not know if Amita found it shocking but she never spoke a word. We kept trudging up the mountain when the sound of Dhol/drums and Damau, the state instruments of Uttarakhand started filling our ears. The village was near, Amita sighed, and started walking faster, so much that i did not see her that night again.
There was not much difference i could make after the drink but certainly my body felt light and the mind was flying, or was it my body. The sound had become so loud that I felt my feet were not landing on the ground. I was losing the grip of what was in front of me or what was within. The beating of the drums were doing a strange thing i was not in control of. When the sacred tree arrived, I carefully kept my things on the ground, looked up to the giant tree; opened my hands like wings and started running around the tree looking up. That night I danced like no one was watching. Stepping, swinging, twisting, leaping, jumping, spinning, rapping or truly I was dancing- tripping when another sound alerted me. A gigantic baboon like man was walking by. The night shade of the tree and the sound from the village had saved me from getting noticed. But he himself was in some kind of rhythm. He too moved with the beats like i was. He was white from head to toe with a black face. A snout reaching out, but had horn like growth coming out of his ears. He stood like humans and wore nothing, he was looking for something in the fields. He uprooted big sugarcane willows like carrots, collected them and left. I followed. His way took me inside the village. I was slow but i wanted to record it. I took my camera out. The lanes were Colourful. but they were narrow. The sky had mist. The sound of water running through either side filled the trees above. Trees covered the night sky, from my eyes. I took left. Walls became yellow. I took right. There came steps. A red balloon lying on the side, still but jumpy. I climbed, the lane took left when one head almost cracked my lens. Right in front. A man stood watching. He had forced stopped himself but he was moving. I slowly pulled my camera away. His eyes met mine but he wasn’t looking at me. Angry. Sweaty. Red, rather they were piercing my gaze. His look drilled through my consciousness. Like it cracked me open. I shouldn’t have been here. He must not have been stopped. But he was stopped. And his mouth moved, rotating screams in whisper : Brahma kamal! Brahma Kamal. again and again. Brahma kamal! Brahma Kamal! Brahma kamal!
The beating of the drums and pulling of the Damau had intoxicated me. I had to let loose. I started walking towards the sound. And it led me to the centre of the village, Taat. And it seemed every being of the village had come out to see what was going to happen. Every possible inch of earth was covered that night. Even the hut roofs. A big trunk of a tree was uprooted from the forest. Carried by 100s of villagers on their shoulders for two days and was planted here, right in the centre of the village. Vibrating, women and children sat around it. When all of a sudden, every single human present there went silent. As if it was rehearsed. For a second or two. Stunned to see the beefy white monkey who came roaring down from the sky, on top of the trunk. With as many sugarcanes, he started throwing it off in every direction. People went berserk and ran amok. Some adults picked bricks from the roof and threw at him. He went defensive but his tail went stiff and started twitching it sideways. He was getting ready to attack when someone shot at him. It missed. In anger he bit off the whole top of the big trunk, jumped in the sky and away, over the houses, towards the forest. Children ran after him, parents ran after children.
Shocked and astounded, people spoke in hush sounds. But slowly started getting back to their places. Rushing and running had made them warm again in the cold, as it gets in the Himalayan nights. Things started from the beginning again. Dhol and Damau started. Tea was being prepared, some men opened a Liquor bottle hideously behind the temple. Adults stood watching, talking. But some, the most responsible ones began performing the rituals, may be a millionth time again; invoking the spirits of the Pandavas in the men who were dancing in front, with the weapons Pandavas had once left. Observing it all i saw Amita, somewhere sitting, but it was not her where my eyes rested, it fell on the most beautiful old man i had ever seen. He was dancing as if there was nothing else in this world to think, he was living dancing it with the villagers, his eyes closed, moving, floating two-stepping in a circle like no one was. The grace himself. He, from there after lifted every curtain there ever was in my life. His rhythm, which was waiting to become mine, flows through me today. That night, the sap became my energy to meet his, or so i feel it today. I met my first Guru thus, that night.
I would have never known that a journey which merely started in finding the secrets of the mountains will end in becoming a never-ending quest of the finding the way to my own being.
For next two years, starting that night, i lived with him and Guru Ma, his wife and two cows; learning about everything breath, Yoga, Dhyana, Mudra and Naturopathic Medicine or the Therapy of the Nerves.
But in all those years i could never walk to find the Brahma kamal. And today, when the call finally arrived five long years later, it was raining like clouds were leaking, for past many days in Delhi. And seemingly forever in the Himalayas on news channels. Monsoons had extended their visit. News of landslides, mountains sliding, roads being washed away, death, rocks falling on bridges, bridges falling in the river, river washing houses away due to cloud burst, flash floods had filled the minds of one and all with fear all over the northern and central Indian states and specifically amongst the Himalayan people. And the same news of water everywhere, loss of lives, destruction has been repeating for last ten years. Every monsoon carries with it a rumour, and terrified, crying faces. Not very different from my mother’s who wasn’t ready to let me go this time around.
But as they say, when time comes, whole universe starts conspiring to make it happen for you. I did not tell Guruji i was coming, because this time i was on my way to find the Brahma Kamal.
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If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste
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I will take this opportunity to introduce you to About me and importantly;
As a co-traveller, taking you through the Ten Lessons I learnt from several years on the road, before you coarse on your own Road to Nara.
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You might also love to know about My Little School. If you wish to come over for a visit, you are welcome to share your stories or one of your magic tricks with children; at least on a week’s notice.
If you would like to contribute to this project by empowering us to do better, or even want to contribute towards my travels, you can please do so here
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Above all, If you have anything to share, or feel like saying a hello, please feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
To visit other long-term photographic works, you can visit here.