Back on a bus after magic and fun with the busking children, we looked out the window. We passed more jungles, farms, small temples, and cows, and caught a view of the sea in the distance. I struck up a conversation with another traveler who knew Gokarna and the availability of rooms. She said that she knew there is a room with four beds. We arranged with Karim to all share a room. Sleep is the number one priority as everyone is exhausted after travel.
The bus was met by her landlord, who led us through the busy, congested streets to the guesthouse. Stepping carefully to avoid the manure of the many cows and dodging busses, we took in the exciting confusion. The street was crowded with strangely dressed people, holy men, small shops, and temples, all in a sepia tone of dusty brown color. (Photo by Donna)
We followed the landlord down a small alleyway, walking around a puddle and a cow, We entered a crude courtyard café. Indeed, a room and a shower were available. Settling our bags into the room, we took our first walk alone through the village streets. Again, dodging busses, people, and cows. A small shop had the basic supplies we needed, incense and candles. Again, we faced the challenge of weaving through the maze of vehicles, people, and cows as we returned to the guesthouse.
The once empty café was now full of travelers who had experience navigating through India. We found a space at the long ten-foot table on one of the benches. Most of these experienced travelers were puzzled. How did we manage to come to Gokarna in search of Om Beach? It wasn’t in the tour guides. Their curiosity was satiated after we explained how we received messages from the Universe through other travelers. Many other people and good friends had told us Om was a cosmic beach. We had even seen photos of Om at the previous New Year’s Day in Tav, Israel. Karim joined us as the evening light faded. We lit candles and incense and ordered a thali dinner.
Indian Classical Music
After dinner, an older European man dressed in a flowing, white kurta pajama and a young Israeli girl arrived at the guesthouse. After settling in, they joined us. Bernardo introduced himself and, in our discussions, mentions that he plays a sarangi. We had no idea what a sarangi is. Bernardo produces the ancient Indian classical instrument from his bag to show us. The sarangi had 40 strings and was played with a bow. Bernardo then began to produce the hypnotizing pitch and timbre of beautiful ragas with his sarangi.
Bernardo gave us an introductory crash course into Indian music and ragas. There are particular ragas for different times of day and night and special occasions. He is from German where he teaches during the summer months, and studies the sarangi in India during the winter months. He is one of only 200 Sarangi players in the world. Claiming that, alas, after many years of study, it is difficult to find someone who plays better than he. He believes nobody takes him seriously as an Indian classical musician, not being Indian. “Ah, such is my karma,” he says, “Being among the best, yet not recognized.”
Difficult Sleeping Arangements
It was an entire evening of making music. First, Karim and I jammed on guitar and percussion, followed by the beautiful ragas of Bernardo on his sarangi. Donna and I eventually excused ourselves to find a cold shower and our room. Unfortunately, the room was right next to the toilet. The odor wafted in the damp night air over the open space at the top of the wall between the rooms. We used all of the incense we had bought just to be able to fall asleep.
We changed rooms the following morning. This time we moved next to the kitchen. That night was almost as bad with the kitchen noise. Also, we had to squeeze between a cabinet and the bed of a sleeping man in the darkness. We decided, anyway, to stay one more day in Gokarna to check it out. The previous outing had given us a taste of the local color.
Gokarna and Shiva
Gokarna, which etymologically translates as “cow’s ears,” is a popular pilgrimage destination for Hindus. It’s well known for sacred sites like the Mahabaleshwar Temple. This temple houses one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, a reverential portrayal of Lord Shiva. Jyoti signifies ‘light,’ and linga signifies ‘mark.’ They are deemed the most sacred Shivalingas, and millions of devotees visit every year to worship them.
Who is Shiva, you may ask? Hinduism has many gods and goddesses, but the main three are Brahma, the creator. Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. In Sanskrit, Shiva translates to “Auspicious One.” Shiva is seen as the source of both good and evil. He is regarded as the one who combines many contradictory elements. Shiva is known to have untamed passion, which leads him to extremes in behavior. Sometimes he is an ascetic, abstaining from all worldly pleasures. At others, he is a hedonist.
He is the Supreme Being in Shaivism, one of the major traditions within Hinduism. Shiva. God of Destruction. Master of Poison and Medicine, the Great Yogi, God of Time, the Cosmic Dancer. He is known as the Destroyer or Transformer. The more profound symbolism is that we can overcome our inner demons and embrace the shadow within through self-awareness, self-awakening, and self-control. By working on ourselves, we can transform the darkness into light within and around us.
On our adventures in investigating Gokarna, we found the Mahabaleshwar temple. Unfortunately, we learned that non-Hindu people cannot enter the temple. Donna was taking pictures of the large elephant carts/wagons. They feature handcrafted scenes of the Ramayana of classic Indian literature. One is parked in a primitive, mud brick ‘garage’, not particularly on display. Another was quite impressively decorated with paper streamers attached to a huge ball of a structure above the large wooden wagon. The wooden wheels were nearly shoulder high on Donna. During Shivaratri festival celebrations, devotees ceremoniously pull the chariot through the town, accompanied by drum bands.
A busload of black-clad pilgrims, with the sign of Shiva on their foreheads, led by a swami, arrived. After a few minutes, the Swami walks over to Donna, who is unsure why he approached her. He asks if she would like to take some pictures of the Shiva pilgrims and him. I was down the street and was unaware of this. Donna was a bit trepidatious about the situation, so she responds, “No. I don’t want to take your picture.” She continued to focus on the elephant carts. (Photo by Donna)
Shiva Pilgrims and the Swami
I returned to where she was and found that we were surrounded on three sides by the black-clad Shiva pilgrims and the Swami. They were waiting patiently to be photographed. Donna was panicking, thinking, ‘If I photograph them, do I have to tip them all?’ That is a typical way to get out of these situations. Suddenly, the Swami gives her a rupee, which really throws her. She thinks, ‘Is he reading my mind regarding this as a way of having to tip them, so he is giving me the thing I fear losing the most? What very little money we have?’
Donna had me try to give the rupee back to Swami. After a back-and-forth comedy routine, I finally accepted it with as much grace as I could, and we continued on our way. It was later that we learned that Swamis are commonly given small gifts as well as give small gifts. So, our first encounter was quite a lesson in expectation, fear and grace.
We meandered through the small village, returned to the beach, and climbed up the rocky cliffs up to a small Shiva temple. It was painted turquoise with pink and white trim, and paintings of Ganesh and another deity. Ganesh is the popular elephant headed god. Each side of the doorway entrance was decorated with traditional rangoli.
What Is Rangoli?
Amazingly, the rangoli designs resemble many of the same design elements used by Central America and the North American indigenous peoples. It is done after the woman of the house has cleaned her floors. Yes, that’s right, wash the floors, vacuum, and draw a design. Well, almost. Instead, the floor is watered down to cut the dust down as it is swept with a two-foot-long straw hand broom. This is done in a squat-like duck walk. ‘Cow pies’ soak in water reconstituting to a fibrous consistency. With this completed, a ‘wash’ is applied to the floor. After it dries a few hours, the floor is hard and dust free. It is after this that the rangoli is drawn.
The designs begin with a matrix of dots which are joined to create intricate designs. A pinch of Rangoli powder is taken using the index finger and thumb. As the Rangoli is a coarse powder of a particular soft white stone, it can flow freely when slowly released from the pinch of the index finger and thumb. (Here is a video example)
Why is Rangoli drawn? When sweeping the floor or smearing with cow dung, subtle lines are created on the surface. These lines manifest specific frequencies. As these lines are irregular, their vibrations, too, are irregular. These are harmful to the body, eyes, and mind as well. To overcome these unfavorable frequencies, cones, and auspicious symbols are drawn systematically with rangoli on the swept or smeared floor. The ill effects of sweeping and smearing are overcome, and favorable results are obtained. A wonderful form of folk art, it is a tradition all women must perform and is still heavily practiced in this region.
Temples and Shrines
As we investigated this area of temples, on the side of the jungle hillside, we found a small altar that appeared to be very old. It seemed to be dedicated to snakes, a symbol we saw much of in this village. Small store tablets with carvings of snakes are placed around a “Shiva” tree. This tree grew out as two trees representing the duality of Shiva and, thus a part of worship.
In our wanderings up the hill, we found an old, square reflection pool and, giving respect to some holy cows, continued up the hillside to the top. From there, we had a spectacular view of the large rolling hills of the surrounding countryside with lush jungles and farmland. In the opposite direction, the Arabian Sea extended beyond our horizon.
While we were in Israel, Donna ’saw’ a design in her mind. I had her draw it. Later we saw the same design in Jerusalem. Now, again in India, she saw a design in her mind, and again she drew it. (Photo by Donna)
As a result of exploring the two temples at the top of the hill, we are met by two teenage boys. They educate us on temple etiquette. For example, when and where to remove our shoes. They explained what we saw, a Shiva lingam, in their limited English. Donna was surprised when she turned and saw a stone tablet with a carving of two snakes intertwined. “That’s it! That’s the image that was in my mind! The same image I saw on my way to this mystic place!” (Photo by Donna)
Our young tour guides asked if we had any foreign stamps or coins since they were collectors. We replied, “No, we don’t have any on us here. But, tomorrow, find us, and we will give you some!”
Sunset over the Sea
We saw a group of travelers gathered at the clifftop and joined them in waiting for the sunset. As the sun slowly sank into the sea, Bernardo played special sunset ragas. It was a magnificent sunset full of vibrant colors that slowly faded away into a clear, star-filled sky as Bernardo played. The moon had risen and was bright enough to show us our way safely down the hill.
Next: Om Beach