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Pilgrimage Stories (Part Two)

Posted by J Foster on Aug 16, 2017 in Fieldwork in Nepal

“My elder brother inherited all of our family Shaligrams.” Suresh began, carefully folding his white pilgrimage wraps in order to keep them clear of the mud. “I wanted at least one but that was not possible. They all went to my brother. But now I have two sons and we’ve recently moved away from India to our new home in Australia. I don’t want to lose the tradition and I am afraid that my sons won’t understand Shaligram so I’m coming here to Kali Gandaki to find new Shaligrams for our family.”

I nodded. “Is this very common in your experience? For second and third children to have to begin their own traditions?”

“More common than you might think.” Suresh nodded. His companion, Manu also nodded as well.

“In my family,” Manu interjected, “There are three boys and two girls. Both of my sisters received a Shaligram at their weddings but my brothers and I don’t have any yet. Our father still keeps our family Shaligrams. I think he will for a long time, so I am coming now too for my own Shaligrams so that I can give them to my children when the time comes.”

Suresh smiled. “Oh yes, no favoritism on my end. Both of my boys will each receive Shaligrams. If I find enough, I will keep some for me and my wife and then I will have one or two each for our children to look after. It will be good for them to start right away.”

“How old are your sons, Suresh?” I asked.

“Ten and Thirteen. I wanted to start earlier but it is so difficult to come to Kali Gandaki as you know. And with our move to Australia it became even harder. We are considered foreigners now, even though we are Indian.”

“And have you found the Shaligrams you wanted?” I continued.

Suresh looked down at his hands shyly. “I am almost embarrassed to say. I came here to pray for the appearance of Shiva. In my family, Shiva is very important but my wife said that is not who would come to us. She said I would see the Devi first because the Devi is who watches out for us now. It’s a very long story but it has to do with my wife’s illness. She prayed for Devi and well…” He pulled the small linen bag from his belt and opened it to show me two surprisingly large Shaligrams resting within.

“These are the first Shaligrams that have come. They are Durga and Parvati. This one here, I think though, might be Shiva also. Shiva-Parvati, but I am not sure. I will bring them to our guru when I see my parents in Kolkata on the way back.”

Manu stopped to take momentary darshan on the Shaligrams before looking back up at me. “I will go out onto Kali Gandaki early tomorrow morning for my first look. I’m praying for Vishnu to appear but any Shaligram is fine with me. I think that whatever Shaligram might appear is what is meant for me and my family. Though I have a feeling that it will be Lakshmi or possibly even Narasimha.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s a feeling you get.” He explained. “When you come to this place and you begin pilgrimage, you start to see how God comes to you, how God speaks to you, in the river and in Shaligram. It’s a feeling I have so I think that is who will appear.”

“I am just happy for what I have now.” Suresh concluded. “My wife was right. This is what is meant for us.”

(For the next several weeks, I am going to be posting a series of pilgrimage stories from the Kali Gandaki and from Muktinath. But while I will be discussing my own experiences for the most part, I am also interested in hearing from you. Do you have a pilgrimage story? If so, would you be willing to share it? Please feel free to write about your experiences in the comments or, if you would prefer, send them along to me via private message).

 

 
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Pilgrimage Stories (Part One)

Posted by J Foster on Aug 4, 2017 in Fieldwork in Nepal

I meet a great many people in the course of my travels but some of my favorites are those I meet on the pilgrimage trail to Muktinath. Shaligrams have a way of bringing out the best in people and, more often than not, also bringing out the best in their stories. One particular story that has stuck with me over the years involved an older woman, on her first Shaligram pilgrimage to the Kali Gandaki in Nepal, whom I met while we all gathered one evening for dinner at a local guesthouse. She and I had been discussing Shaligrams off and on throughout the day and when I saw her sitting alone at a table on the far end of the dining hall I called out to her with my customary greeting, “Namaste Didi! Sanchai Chha?”

She smiled up from her tea and motioned for me to join her. “You would never imagine what has happened today.” She began, excitedly grasping my hands and bouncing up and down on the bench.

“No?” I responded. “What is it?”

From the folds of her jacket, I watched as she produced a small, rusty-looking, Shaligram from a kathag wrapping. It was about the size of a golf ball, round and flat, with a clear Surya chakra deeply imprinted on the front. But I was slightly puzzled.

“Didi,” I started, “This Shaligram is not finished in the river yet. It is still orange and red and rough all around. It hasn’t turned completely black yet and the chakra is partially obscured.”

She nodded happily. “Oh yes I know.” She said. “But you see, it was the very first Shaligram that came to me. I went down to Kali Gandaki to do my prayers. And you know what I prayed about? I prayed about my son. He died a few years ago from a sudden sickness, so I prayed for him. And then, just as I was about to step out into the river, I saw it. Right there next to my feet. Right at the very edge of the river. Looking up at me and waiting there.”

I took the Shaligram carefully in my hands, turning it over and over again while she continued to explain.

“And then I just knew. I knew that God was speaking. My son, his name was Surya. And he died so young. Unfinished, right? This is his Shaligram. This is Surya. Unfinished. Now Shaligram has come to help me through and to help him through. Now we can go on in our lives.”

I could see what she was talking about. The Surya Shaligram that I held was just beginning to glitter with golden colors throughout the edges of the spiral. The chakra itself was deep in the stone, but iron ores and other minerals from the mountain had not yet been completely worn away by the river and so the Shaligram had been born “unfinished.” But still it was beautiful and I could see that it had already taken up residence in her heart. She began puja that very night and carried the new Shaligram with her, in layers of soft cloths, wherever she went.

When we parted ways a few days later, I waved goodbye to my new friend on the outskirts of Kagbeni village as she began the long walk back to Jomsom (and back to the airport). In the course of her pilgrimage, she found several more Shaligrams. A total of eleven if my memory is correct. But she left with only one. The rest made their way into the hands of other pilgrims we met along the path.

“My Shaligram has come to me.” She explained. “It is all I need. The others are just appearing so that I can send them on their way to wherever it is they must go. They are not for me.” We then bid one another farewell. I turned and walked off back towards the village, while she pressed her walking stick into the late summer mud and trudged off into the Himalayas. I realized at that moment that, in a sense, we were also sending each other off… to wherever it was we needed to go as well.

(For the next several weeks, I am going to be posting a series of pilgrimage stories from the Kali Gandaki and from Muktinath. But while I will be discussing my own experiences for the most part, I am also interested in hearing from you. Do you have a pilgrimage story? If so, would you be willing to share it? Please feel free to write about your experiences in the comments or, if you would prefer, send them along to me via private message).

 
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ANNOUNCEMENT: A New Blog!

I’m starting a new blog but don’t worry, I can explain!

As the readership of my Peregrinations blog has grown, it has become clear to me that the content of this blog should primarily focus on my ethnographic work, on Shaligram research, and on my continued relationships with the Hindu and South Asian community. In other words, it has come to my attention that the readership of Peregrinations is, aside from friends and family, almost exclusively Shaligram or pilgrimage based and, as such, some of my more general, political, or media oriented commentaries aren’t fitting to the readers.

Therefore, I am splitting my online writing into two sites. Peregrinations will now focus completely on my anthropological and ethnographic work. I will continue to post about my publications, my research, Shaligram discussions, my work in Nepal and India, and so on right here. However, my new blog, Mocking the Apocalypse, will now focus on the particularly political, social, religious, media, and popular culture discussions I tend to engage in otherwise.

So, if you like my writing, feel free to follow both. But you’ll have to catch my more controversial arguments at www.mockingtheapocalypse.com.

Cheers,
JF

 
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Learning to Love Nepal – Reflections of Leaving the Field (News Article: May 2017)

Posted by J Foster on Jul 7, 2017 in Fieldwork in Nepal

As the rickety bus barely rounded another corner, an audible gasp went through the passengers. A recent blizzard had taken out the road between the high Himalayan villages of Ranipauwa and Jharkot, leaving some 800 meters of mountainous mudslides between us and the first of many 1000-foot cliffs all the way down to the Kali Gandaki River valley below. A few feet on our right were the steep walls of Nepal’s Annapurna mountain range, soaring up to heights of 8000 meters or more. To our left was a sheer vertical drop which began less than a foot away from the trundling wheels of our makeshift vehicle as we wound our way precariously along the peaks. More than once, our bus slid into the treacherous rocks, tilting almost completely sideways over the edge and holding us out over the endless expanse. It would take at least another hour white-knuckling to Kagbeni, the village along the river that would be our stopping point on the trip back to Jomsom, the region’s largest town a few kilometers away. Had I known the road was so poor at the time, I would have made my way down the mountain by my more typical choice of transportation: horseback. But the Himalayas are nothing if not unpredictable and I hadn’t anticipated the late-spring weather to be quite so fickle. My choice in taking the bus was that the trip by horse is somewhat over six hours while the bus is usually only about two, and I had hoped to reach Jomsom before nightfall. Now I, and several other pilgrims to Roof of the World, clutched our seats and each other for dear life, wondering if the half-ton truck would make the trip at all. At least, I remember thinking as we lurched wildly onward, I would have been confident that the horse’s sense of self-preservation was as strong as mine.

Over the course of my anthropological fieldwork, one of the most common questions I am asked is if I have fallen in love with Nepal. And each time I am asked that question now, it brings me back to this story. Not because it was a particularly terrifying experience that turned me away from traveling in South Asia (far from it) but because it highlights the variability and unpredictability of working in remote reaches of the high Himalayas. There are ups, downs, and everything in between. What I try to explain is that learning to love Nepal is a little like traveling through it.

I arrived in Nepal for the first time in the summer of 2015, just a few weeks following the massive Gorkha earthquake that rocked the country in April of that year and killed thousands in the span of just a few days. In 2016, I arrived in Kathmandu as a Fulbright scholar to begin a year-long research project in the Himalayan district of Mustang (near the Tibetan border to the north). My field site, a Hindu-Buddhist pilgrimage temple called Muktinath, lies just below the Thorong La Pass at roughly 4000 meters (about 13,000 feet), between the Himalayan peaks of Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri. My work focuses not only on the multi-traditional pilgrimage that characterizes Muktinath but on the ritual use of a kind of sacred stone which comes from the river just below.

In Nepal, politics and religion are a part of the geography. Since at least the 2nd c. B.C.E., the veneration of sacred fossil ammonite stones has been a prevalent feature of Hindu ritual practices throughout South Asia. But more importantly, these fossil ammonites, called Shaligram, originate solely from a single remote region south of the Tibetan plateau, in the Kali-Gandaki River Valley of Mustang. For the past several years, my work has detailed the ritual use of Shaligrams as objects of pilgrimage in Nepal, as focal points for religious co-participation (Hindu, Buddhist, and a tradition of indigenous shamanism called Bon), and as vital objects of trade with India, China, and among the global Hindu Diaspora.

As both late Jurassic fossils (about 165 to 175 million years old) and as symbolic manifestations of divine movement, Shaligram stones blend science and religion together through their journeys across a sacred landscape. However, given Mustang’s long-standing status as a travel-restricted political buffer-zone, my work also highlights some of the ways in which sacred landscapes have continuously come into conflict with political landscapes or, more specifically, how politics and religion don’t mix. For this reason, the challenges of working in Mustang are only partly created by high altitudes and treacherous terrain. One must also be careful about the tenuous political relationships that currently exist between Nepal, China, and India and that have resulted in the constant military presence along the border between southern Tibet and northern Nepal and in the mountain pass that connects them.

As an anthropologist, my job is to take particular cultural case-studies and apply them to broader problems; in this case, how sacred stones relate to political conflict, but it is also my duty to communicate the importance of cultural understanding across different nationalities, religions, and ideologies. The upcoming book will hopefully help to bring Nepal a little closer to the rest of the world, to show how the conflicts and triumphs of one place are not so far removed from another. Or how the distant struggles of one people are connected to struggles here at home. Shaligram stones and Himalayas rivers might seem far away and exotic but they’re not as distant as you might think.

In the end, I did come to love Nepal though perhaps not in the way that most people assume. I came to respect the awe and power of the Himalayas and at the same time, I learned to give it due deference and to never think of myself as the conquering victor. At great altitudes, there is no such thing. I have made life-long friendships among the peoples of Mustang and the Kathmandu Valley and been invited into their lives and in their homes as a friend and sister, but I have never come to think of their culture as mine. I have participated in ancient rites and learned to sing and speak in languages that date back to the beginnings of human civilization, but I strive to honor their voices above my own. And most importantly, though I set out now to complete a book as a culmination of my research in Shaligram pilgrimage and practice, I do so foremost to return the knowledge I have accumulated to the people of Nepal, India, and Tibet who have helped me to complete this work and only secondly, to improve academic understanding. This does not mean that furthering academic analysis isn’t important but that cross-cultural communication is, at this point, paramount. For me, this is what it means to love Nepal; even if I will never, ever, take that bus again.

Five Dead in Mustang Bus Accident – Just five days after leaving my fieldsite, a group of pilgrims were tragically killed along the travel route I often take.

 
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A Guide to Getting There: Planning Shaligram Pilgrimage in Nepal

Posted by J Foster on Jul 4, 2017 in Cultural Anthropology, Fieldwork in Nepal

Planning a pilgrimage to the Kali Gandaki can be exceptionally tricky if you are unfamiliar with the region or with traveling in Nepal in general. But because the most common questions I get tend to relate to the logistics of actually going on Shaligram pilgrimage, I’ve compiled a handy short list of considerations below. Think of this as the first part of a brief “Guide to Getting There.”

Total travel days: Between 7 – 10

Total days searching for Shaligrams: 3 – 4 (with trip to Muktinath included)

1. If possible, arrange your travel to Mustang (where the Kali Gandaki flows) prior to arriving in Kathmandu. This can be done through a Nepali travel agent or trekking company easily enough and if anyone is especially interested, feel free to comment on this post for more information.

2. If you are arranging travel to Mustang after you arrive in Kathmandu, you should start with air tickets. From Kathmandu, you must fly first to Pokhara and then to Jomsom, where the pilgrimage route begins. I highly recommend doing this with either Tara Air or Buddha Air as they are the most reliable and are not as prone to random cancellations as some of the other airlines are (you will have to walk or take a taxi to the local ticket office to purchase tickets).

The second thing to keep in mind is that these flights tend to only go early in the mornings (due to weather) so you will likely need to plan for at least two days of travel to get to Mustang. Additionally, if you are traveling during monsoon, expect delays and cancellations (some which can run several days at a time during the height of the rains). PLEASE NOTE! Do not anticipate being able to get from Kathmandu to Jomsom on the same day. While theoretically possible if all your flights work out, it is more likely you will end up with at least one day in Pokhara.

If you plan to travel to Mustang by jeep or bus (from either Kathmandu or Pokhara), you can do so from any one of the many bus or jeep stations in either city. Private jeeps are expensive though, and can run a few hundred dollars (US) for the entire trip, which can be anywhere from 7 – 9 hours or up to 14 hours by bus. Buses are cheap however, and can get you to Jomsom for about $14 dollars (US).

3. Remember that you will need to get two permits to access Mustang, the TIMS permit and the ACAP permit. Both of these permits are available from the Immigration Office in Kathmandu or at the Immigration and Trekking Counter in Pokhara. The total fee is around $25.

4. The final altitude for reaching Muktinath is over 4000 meters. At this altitude, you will acutely notice the thinness of the air and, depending on your personal make-up, you may find it difficult to breathe or that you are tiring easily. This is to be expected, which is why it is important to plan at least a few extra days in case of altitude sickness or travel delays. If you are able, stop by any one of the many pharmacies in Kathmandu or Pokhara for a couple of doses of mountain medications to keep on hand I would recommend it. Just in case. Additionally, if possible, plan for at least one over-night in Jomsom. The elevation between Kathmandu and Jomsom is reasonably extreme (Jomsom is at around 3,100 meters), so if you are not sure how you will react to the altitude, be sure to give yourself enough time to acclimate.

5. It is possible to find Shaligrams in the Kali Gandaki just north of Jomsom. If you are prepared to trek, you can leave Jomsom early in the morning and follow the route of the Kali Gandaki towards Kagbeni village. Kagbeni is about 2 – 3 hours walk north if you follow the road straight but many pilgrims use this opportunity to find Shaligrams in the river as they go. If you choose to do this, plan for around 4 – 5 hours of walking to reach Kagbeni. Otherwise, you can either stay in Jomsom and look for Shaligrams north of the town (on the far side of the river, past the jeep stand and main gompa) or take a bus (in the morning only) to Kagbeni and stay there while looking for Shaligrams. Either place works, though I have noticed that the quality of the Shaligrams I have found outside of Kagbeni tends to be better than outside of Jomsom.

6. Lodging in Mustang is fairly easy to come by. There are guesthouses and trekking lodges throughout Jomsom and Kagbeni (as well as near Muktinath) that offer reasonable rooms and meals (around $15 a night in Jomsom, $8 – $10 a night in Kagbeni and Muktinath). If you have specific dietary restrictions, however, you may have to plan ahead before you arrive. Most guesthouses have vegetarian or Vaishnava food available but the kitchens are not separated from the preparation of trekking meals. This means that meat, eggs, and other animals products are prepared on the same premises as everything else. There are a few houses and dharamsalas that specifically cater only to pilgrims here and there but you will likely need the help of a local travel agent to help you book them. If all else fails, consider bringing some prepared food with you before you leave.

7. Guide services are generally not necessary unless you plan to do more extensive trekking in the Annapurna region, such as the Thorong La Pass. If you are just planning on Shaligram pilgrimage (Jomsom to Kali Gandaki to Muktinath and then back to Jomsom), you won’t need a full mountain guide.

8. Finding Shaligrams in the river can be tricky but it’s not impossible. For most people, even on their first pilgrimages, they are able to find between 6 and 10 Shaligrams over the course of a few hours. The best advice I can offer is to focus on areas of the river where the water has recently passed. This means along the edges of the streams that flow through the main river bed as well as along the rocky areas where the water has recently moved over. Shaligrams will have a distinct inky black color in the water (or when wet) that helps pick them out from the surrounding silt.

9. The typical pilgrimage route is from Jomsom to Kagbeni (1 day), Kagbeni to Muktinath (1 or 2 days), Muktinath to Jomsom (1 day – with flight or bus leaving the following day). For this reason, try to plan at least 4 or 5 days in Mustang aside from 2 days to get to Jomsom and 2 days to get back to Kathmandu.

10. If you are traveling to Kali Gandaki during the summer months (June, July, August) the weather tends to be fairly mild: 10 – 12 C (50 F) during the day, 5 – 7 C (40 F) at night. During the fall and winter, however, it can get quite cold in the Himalayas. Always look up the expected temperatures for Mustang before you plan on arriving so that you can be sure to pack warm enough clothes.

Ok, anything I forgot?

 
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Shaligram Seminars in Stoke-on-Trent, Courtesy of the Hindu Cultural Society of Staffordshire

Posted by J Foster on May 18, 2017 in Ask An Anthropologist, Cultural Anthropology, Fieldwork in Nepal

In April of this year, shortly after leaving Nepal, I had the distinct pleasure to conduct a two-day Shaligram seminar for the Hindu Cultural Society of Staffordshire in Stoke-on-Trent, England. They were also kind enough to film the seminar and, though some parts of the workshop portion of it is difficult to see on the video, you can view the entire talk at the links included below.

Shaligram Practices: Day 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nD-qaIKGD0

Shaligram Practices and Identification Workshop: Day 2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8U6xsnMYMU

Shaligram Workshop – April 27 2017
Madhusūdana Shaligram Presiding

 
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Shaligram Talk in Kathmandu, Nepal (April 21st, 2017)

Posted by J Foster on Apr 20, 2017 in Cultural Anthropology, Fieldwork in Nepal

Fulbright Forum – Shaligram Talk

 
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Glimpsing the Divine on the Kali Gandaki River (Mustang, Nepal)

Posted by J Foster on Mar 24, 2017 in Cultural Anthropology, Fieldwork in Nepal

Kali Gandaki River Valley from Kagbeni Village

 

Kali Gandaki River Valley, Kagbeni and Mount Nilgiri in the Background

 

Kalpvriksha Shaligram appearing in the River

 

A rare Dasavatara Shaligram

 

Half-Surya Shaligram places near a cave

 

Gadadhar Shaligram appearing in the River

 
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Red + Blue = Purple (Bruises)

Posted by J Foster on Jan 29, 2017 in Cultural Anthropology, In the Media

A few passing thoughts on the current state of things.

One of the tests of academic criticism is, I think, coming to an understanding that your work is not entirely your own. I don’t mean acts of plagiarism, but that, in all things, you must conform to the standards and expectations of your time. There is an irony in this, of course, as tends to be the case in anthropology; that we critique those who came before us as products of their respective times, but are unwilling or unable to break the mold of our own historical moments. Assuming that we can, of course (many would say not). But we recoil at the very thought, don’t we? Lest we be seen as irrelevant, out of touch, or “fluffy.” It’s an oddly functionalist approach to post-modern, or ostensibly post-modern, social science.

I’m sure this comes across as somewhat overly ponderous for mid-afternoon musings on the third re-write and revision of a four-page dissertation description (for a grant application, as it almost always is), but it got me to thinking about a division I have in my life between my academic endeavors (read: dissertation) and my creative endeavors (sculpture, writing, etc.). In short, I finally came to truly accept that, in the end, my dissertation will never be entirely mine. Rather, it is a chimera of committee and colleague feedback and recommendations, a formulation of scholarship before (a theoretical foundation) and scholarship right now (a conversation), a foregrounding of the voices and experiences of my research participants without whom none of this would be possible, and a little bit of my own experiences and observations. It won’t say all of what I want it to say in the ways that I want it to say it, in the hopes that it will say all that it needs to say and to the right people. In truly coming to terms with this, I realize the need for creativity and for activism. Only there are we king.

When you express yourself in writing or in art or in protest, it says what you want it to say and in the ways that you want to say it. It all comes back down to the same thing over and over again, doesn’t it? Having a voice. One’s own voice. And in the end, it doesn’t even necessarily matter all that much if anyone else is listening, you just don’t want anyone else to have a say in the expression. Ignore me if you like, but don’t change my words.

This might, under some circumstances, come across as a rejection of criticism entirely (and I can understand now a little better those for whom that is the case) but it isn’t. It’s about a deep and visceral desire to keep or discard criticism arbitrarily, at will. But without mastery, or the appearance of mastery (admiration), I’m afraid that only the rarest among us will ever truly get to experience that kind of voice. Public space, you see, always carries a price. The social is economic, as some might argue.

But for those of you who have been watching the last week or so unfold in America, you know that right now, a voice is more important than ever. Trump and his ban on Muslim-majority refugees and non-citizen residents (green card or not). Protests fomenting at major airports and the federal stay. Bills to attack LGBTQ rights on the nonsense grounds of religious freedom to practice/discriminate. Tariffs and taxes to pay for a wall on the US-Mexico border (despite dangers to trade, wildlife, and commerce), executive orders to attack abortion access and reproductive choice, and the looming threat of healthcare repeal. Antagonism of China. Israel pushing forward with illegal settlements, and it’s just the first week of an administration that is already desperately unpopular. The U.S. is gearing up for war; it’s just a question of against who and when. Our own citizens or someone else’s.

In the coming days, I anticipate that more marches will build more momentum, the Republican controlled administration will double-down harder, supporters and dissidents will become more polarized. There will be no “listening,” because the lines in the sand have already been drawn. There is no compromise to be made on choice or no-choice, equality or inequality, rights exercised or rights silenced. A forest fire is coming, and many of the trees will burn. What remains to be seen is what is left and where the new growth will begin.

In the end, though, we had this coming. We gave too much ground to ideology, compromised our own positions when our opponents and adversaries compromised none. A thoughtful revolution questioned itself into obscurity, wondering if the water was hot enough yet or whether or not it was the frog or the pot. We became too post-modern to criticize and as a result, we stopped saying the things we needed to say in the ways that we needed to say them. There have never been two sides to every story, but soon the fires of revisionist history will have you believing that there was only one. We live in a frightened and angry time. But we can never forget, that what comes after, won’t belong entirely to any of us.

 
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Spotlight: Narasimha Shaligram

Posted by J Foster on Jan 22, 2017 in Cultural Anthropology, Fieldwork in Nepal

Description:

As described in the Lakshmi-Narasimha Shaligram, Narasimha, or conversely Narsimha or Narsingh, is an avatar of Vishnu or Krishna who is considered to be the supreme God in certain traditions of Vaishnavism but is also a popular deity in Hinduism more generally. Narasimha commonly appears in early Hindu epics, iconography, and temple and festival worship and dates back to well over a millennium. Narasiṃha’s appearance is particularly distinctive, usually depicted as having a human torso and lower body with the head and arms of a lion. Narasimha is also colloquially referred to as the god of “in-betweens” given his most famous appearance as the ‘Great Protector’ of the devotee Prahlada or as the protector of all devotees in their times of need. For example, when Narasimha appeared to destroy the demon king Hiranyakashipu, he did so in such a way as to circumvent the demon’s boon not to be killed by any living being created by Brahma, not to be killed at night or by day, on the ground or in the sky, nor by any weapon, human, or animal. Narasimha thus appears as the blending of a man and a lion, at twilight, at the threshold of the courtyard, places Hiranyakshipu on his thighs, and disembowels him with his claws.

The general distinction between the Narasimha Shaligram and its more common counterpart, the Lakshmi-Narasimha Shaligram is in the presence of a “mouth” and “teeth” but without the inclusion of the two visible internal chakra-spirals.

For the most part, Narasimha Shaligrams are sought after for their highly protective qualities. As manifestations of Narasimha, the god who defends his devotees in their times of greatest need, Narasimha Shaligrams are said to bestow protection from theft or the influences of evil or impure persons. These Shaligrams are also said to aid in the healing of mental illnesses, especially anxiety and phobias, and to restore spiritual balance to persons caught in chaotic home situations. In some cases, Narasimha Shaligrams are also included in daily puja rituals for the sake of obtaining divine guidance before undertaking an especially challenging endeavor related to household or marital harmony.

In some Shaiva traditions, this Shaligram is interpreted as the deity Bhairava, a fierce and terrifying manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation.

Vedic References: Praanatoshani Tantra pg. 347-348, Skanda Purana, Nagarekhanda, 244: 3-9, Brahmavaivartta (Prakritikhanda, Ch. 21), Garuda Purana (Panchanan Tarkaratna, Part 1, Ch. 45), Agni Purana; Bengavasi ed., Panchanan Tarkaratna, Saka 1812, Ch. 46

Vedic Description:

Large opening with two circular marks, glittering to look at (BV).

Mark of a mace at center, circular mark in lower middle, upper middle portion comparatively bigger (G).

(i) With a big opening and two circular marks.
(ii) With a long opening and linear marks resembling the mane of a lion, and also with two circular marks.
(iii) Marked with three dot-prints other things being the same as above.
(iv) Uneven in shape with a mixed reddish colour, having two big circular marks above it, and a crack at the front.
(v) Reddish in colour and printed with several teeth like marks, three or five dot-marks and a big circular mark.
(vi) With a big opening, a vanamala and two circular marks. This type is popularly known as Lakshminrisimha.
(vii) Black in colour with dot marks all over his body and two circular marks on His left side. This also is a variety of the Lakshminrisimha sub-type.
(viii) Printed with a lotus mark on His left side. This also is a sub-type of Lakshminrisimha.
(ix) When any of the above types of Narasimha is marked with five dot prints He is popularly called Kapilanrisimha.
(x) Printed with seven circular marks and golden dots and also having openings on all sides. This type is called Sarvotmukhanrisimha.
(xi) Variegated in colour, having many openings including a large one and marked with many circular prints. This type is popularly called Paataalanrisimha.
(xii) With two circular marks inside the main opening and eight others on His sides. This also is a variety of Paataalanrisimha.
(xiii) Aakaashanrisimha: With a comparatively high top and a big opening and also printed with circular marks.
(xiv) Jihvaanrisimha: Big in size, with two openings and two circular marks. He being the giver of poverty, His worship is forbidden.
(xv) Raakshasanrisimha: With a fierce opening and holes, and also marked with golden spots. His worship also is forbidden.
(xvi) Adhomukhanrisimha: With three circular marks one at the top and two on the sides, having His opening at the bottom.
(xvii) Jvaalaanrisimha: Marked with two circular prints and a vanamala, and having a small opening.
(xviii) Mahaanrisimha: Printed with two big circular marks and a few other linear marks one above the other. (P)

 

Narasimha Shaligram

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