Two weeks later as I was sweeping out my brand new used bungalow the bane of my youthful existence appeared again. I welded the broom like a weapon. “Go away!” Jock and Syn grinned as they sat in the same buggy. “I cannot believe you two would dare show your faces again! In General Hearsay’s buggy! Here! At my home!”
“We are sorry laddie!” Jock replied trying to look contrite. “You are not living in this hovel are you?”
“It is not an hovel but a bungalow!” I had to admit it was rather run down. But I was not going to admit that to them!
“We want to make it up to you!” Syn said straight faced. “Where are your servants?”
“I can only afford a grass cutter to service my horse! I can cook and sew!”
“We are here to atone! As good sons of the kirk!”
“In a stolen buggy!”
“Your NCO thinks you need a holiday!”
“Why not Sahib?” the grass cutter said appearing. “I can finish hiring the other servants while you are on vacation. I have a very big family and…”
“I can’t afford servants! And you two! My NCO’s won’t approve of me associating with notorious rascals like you!”
“Has given you permission to take a whole week off!” Jock exclaimed.
“After we told him about your birthday!” Jock added grinning.
“Not for another month!”
“And we have all been given a week!” The knaves grinned as they gestured to some backpacks and a large, bulky canvas bag. “Come on laddie!”
“Go die some place dreadful!”
“Now is that a way to treat your best friends what which want to make your seventeenth birthday special such as you will never forget?”
“So now what are you planning? Drag me into the place of the Nawab of Bengal? To visit his harem? Claiming it is a brothel?”
“No. The NCO says it is perfect!”
“What? Where? Why?” I asked suspiciously. But indeed it prove to be — perfect.
We arrived by a small boat to a sea side town in Tamil Nadu and then walked along with crowds of devotees to the famous Shiva Temple at Chidambaram, timing the arrival for dawn. As the sun rose I beheld the magical complex of pagodas which looked like flattened topped skinny pyramids framing a lake of simmering water. Nine great gates guarded the complex. There were also shrines to Ganesha the elephant god, Shiva’s wonderfully comic son, his ever reincarnating wife Parvati, his pet bull Mandi, plus symbols of his favorite dwelling place in the Himalayas called Mount Kailaa. We walked around the temple as dawn melted the dew. I was surprised we were allowed into the complex of shrines but then I saw then many devotees were British or mix blood Indians. Syn told me the history of the place , apparently very familiar with the temple.
“Chidambaram Temple is one of five most holy temples John. Shiva is of course worshiped all over India but in the north most of the great Hindu temples were vandalized, burned, destroyed, or defiled by Muslim rulers. The Muslims never really made it down this far to wage their campaigns against the Hindu.”
‘John Company’ has always made contributions to all of the temples around it’s bastion of power” Jock added. “And up to some ten years ago every regiment was routinely encouraged to take it’s regimental colors to the local temple to have priests bless them.”
“What stopped the practice?”
“‘John Company’ was harangued by do-goodies in London for allowing Hindu Rites but not allowing Christian Rites. ‘John Company’ tried to keep Christian missionaries out and ordered officers to attend the local temples to support the local rites, adopt the regimental gods the way some regiments adopt mascots. Join in with their men. That sort of thing. But complaints from London forced ‘John Company’ to allow missionaries to come to India so to keep things equal ‘John Company’ then simply outlawed all show of religion period. Religion is suppose to be strictly private and a fella is not suppose to try to agitate or convert or preach or anything like that.”
“Seems sensible” I said.
“This temple is the temple one of five. Each temple symbolizes one of the Five Elements related to Shiva. This is Akasha. Divine Ether.”
“Like Pranic Energy. Psychic Energy? The Aura?”
“I have never heard of those but Aura. Yes. It is like that. Or you could describe it as the Divine Consciousness. But another translation is the Divine Stage”
“Because Shiva is the Lord of the Dance?”
“Yes. Exactly” Syn replied as he gestured around the complex. “This is one of the few temples where Shiva is not portrayed in abstract form or else a formless space. Here according to legend Shiva walked among the inhabitants as an ascetic. Or as we might say: a lowly and despised beggar. Thus he told me the most famous story of Shiva the Destroyer…..