Originally from 9 November 2011, day 4 of Panauti somayajña.
I feel under the weather this morning, but it doesn’t matter. There’s a somayajña happening, and barring death or other sudden catastrophe, I’ll be there. I haul my irritatingly delicate self to the grounds and, upon entering, notice people circumambulating the House of Soma.
I know about this practice, called parikrama or pradakṣina: walking a clockwise circle around a shrine or temple, to literally and symbolically place God at the centre of one’s life. It didn’t occur to me before, but of course it may be done here, in this living temple of fire. So I think back to my reading; it is to be done once for Gaṇeśa, twice for Śiva, but what is appropriate here? “An odd number,” instructs Ujjwol, “once, or three times, something like that.”
The morning Subrahmaṇyā song surrounds me as I walk. Light, almost dizzy, feeling strangely as if everything around me is unreal, I wonder if I am filled with weariness or wonder. After the morning rites, the musicians take over:
I had missed the first Soma-pressing yesterday, but again the pressing was done today, and I regret that it was difficult to see from our (and their) position. Still, the feeling of sanctity didn’t need bodily eyes to witness. Later, I discovered that Ujjwol had ventured to ask one of the priests about the beverage (which they’d shared amongst themselves after the offerings): what were they using, and what did it taste like?
“What is the Soma” is a valid question, as the original Soma plant has been lost. Soma-substitutes are prescribed and made acceptable in the texts, suggesting that the locating and gathering of Soma was an ordeal even in ancient times, and it is one of these substitutes – appropriately, Arjuna – that rests in the carts here. Soma is so sacred that the entire ninth maṇḍala of Ṛgveda hymns it, so symbolic that entire books can be (and have been) written about it, and so mysterious that scholars even today can’t agree what it was or what it did. Was it an entheogen, a mushroom like Amanita muscaria? An Ephedra species that stimulated and provided endurance, a sort of prototypical Red Bull? A lightly fermented juice, pleasant though not quite alcoholic, perhaps? Sour? Sweet? Bitter? And because the somayajña is so infrequently performed, few people alive have ever tasted the substance. So the priest who answered my friend, indirectly did me (and my blog research) a favour.
Apparently it tastes, “kind of plant-y,” which we both chuckled to hear.
I walked at various times in the afternoon. At one point, a priest placed a beautiful shawl over my head, and when I went to sit down, a lovely woman with a devotional gaze touched the end of the shawl and pointed to the figures reverently. “These are Rāma and Sītā,” she told me. “This is so precious, you should wear it all the time…Jaya Sītārām, Jaya Sītārām, Jaya, Jaya, Sītārām…” And she asked me to join her in chanting for a moment; I did so.
That afternoon, a holy man/renunciate (sādhu) came to the grounds, Sītārām Baba by name, and joy radiated from him. He walked around the Soma-house, inviting everyone with sweeping arm-gestures and wide smiles to join him in pradakṣina. I watched him; his feet seemed to move as they were moved by his devotion. Sometimes he skipped, ran, walked, no rhythm or reason but so much delight. So again I rose, and followed.
When he saw me following, he began to skip and then to run. The thought popped into my mind that we all must follow God, but it’s rare – and amusing – to have an opportunity to run circles around Him. And if all beings are divine, then in a way, it’s God inviting me to run circles around God.
So I followed…and barefoot, much of it running, I traced fifty-four circles around the structure behind a holy man, unintentionally entertaining the townspeople, who took a certain not-unkind mirth from the sight. The laughter gave way to smiles that faded to quiet.
I didn’t know when he would stop, or if he would, and wondered how long I could walk. As I began to pray and chant, deep in my thoughts I discovered I didn’t care about resting. I was meditating without having to sit still or close my eyes, and my restless nature was utterly content to do so.
The priests chanted; the afternoon rituals continued, and finally, the sādhu sat and gestured me to sit next to him. The silent lesson in devotion, which I took from the parikrama, absorbed as we watched the rites. The day ended in peace.
© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.