| Great StoryTelling Network Newsletter
Volume 15, Issue 3 – 15 March 2019
Last year, one of my stories called ‘Legend of Nagakanna’ was published in an anthology called We Mark Your Memory. This story was Chapter 9 of my novel, The Age of Smiling Secrets. Last weekend, I was honoured to be asked by the Commonwealth Writers to read this story during an event they hosted in Kuala Lumpur called ‘Commonwealth Writers Conversations – The Legacy of Indenture in Contemporary Times’. I joined a distinguished panel of speakers, namely Dr. Michael Jeyakumar and Gitanjali Pyndiah. This was chaired by Yoke Ling Chee.
For this edition of the newsletter, I’d like to share with you this story.
Once upon a time, early in the 20th century, the colonial managers of Foothills Estate picked up about fifty Tamil indentured labourers from Madras and brought them to tap rubber in the estate. They were given homes and, as their numbers grew, a community developed. In need of a place of worship, the Estate Elders commissioned a Hindu priest from Penang to help them locate a suitable place to build a temple. A party of six rubber tappers and the priest spent a month in June roaming the very depths of Foothills Estate.
On the day the Tamils call pournami, the day of the full moon, the exhausted priest decided to have a rest. He crouched down by the banks of a river, cupped his hands and scooped up some water to drink. His thirst quenched, he looked up and saw a jasmine tree in full bloom on the islet across the river. Next to the tree, a cobra raised its head and dilated the muscles of its neck to form a hood with a double chevron pattern.
A dancing snake.
The priest decided that this was a propitious moment and declared the spot a holy one. Everyone agreed that this would be site of the new temple in Foothills Estate. Once the bridge was constructed, a temple with living quarters for the priest was built on that islet.
The kumbavishaygam, a consecration ceremony, was held soon after and repeated every twelve years. During the ceremony, the priests removed the idol from its platform and cleaned it. People entered the temple’s inner sanctum to place their hopes, prayers, dreams and offerings – gold coins, diamonds or precious stones – in the hollow below the platform. Before they put the idol back, there were continuous recitations of Sanskrit mantras for three days. Once the hollow was sealed, only the temple priest entered the inner sanctum.
In the late 1920s, on a cold August morning, the priest heard a loud clanging sound coming from inside the temple. He rushed in to see a man squatting in the middle of the hall clutching his eyes and screaming. A crowbar lay next to him. The priest pulled the man’s hands away. What the priest saw, in the light of the kerosene lamp, horrified him: there was blood streaming down the man’s cheeks and the sockets of his eyes were empty.
The priest treated his wounds and made him rest. Then, he summoned the Estate Elders. When they arrived, the man confessed that he wanted to steal the jewellery and gold in the temple. He had raised the crowbar to strike. Before he could bring it down on the idol, he had heard a hissing sound. The last words the man uttered were, “I saw the cobra’s fangs.”
There was worse to come because he began to run in circles, clutching his ears. He could no longer hear. No one knew his name or where he came from.
The Estate Elders gave the thief a Tamil name, Nagakanna: ‘Naga’ meaning ‘Cobra’ and ‘Kanna’ meaning ‘Eyes’. He spent the remainder of his days in the temple grounds, and the people of Foothills Estate brought him milk and eggs to eat. Within a year, Nagakanna was dead. In spirit form, Nagakanna’s sight and hearing were fully restored.
During the next kumbavishaygam ceremony, the temple priests had a fright when they discovered a cobra inside the hollow. Two intact eyeballs lay in the centre of its deadly coil. At that moment, a woman in the crowd lay face down on the floor and slithered from side to side, hissing. She was in this trance for no more than five minutes. When it was over, the temple priests looked inside the hollow, the snake and the eyeballs had disappeared. No one knew how the snake got there and no one dared to find out. Henceforth, due reverence was given to this creature and every time there was a religious ceremony in the temple, at least one person in the crowd entered into a trance, slithered and hissed for five minutes.
In time, the children of Foothills Estate grew up, left Sungai Petani and the temple crumbled. The priest’s quarters remained, but became dilapidated. And the story of Nagakanna became a frightful legend.
A Guru, like everybody else, is the embodiment of the Divine. I see myself in you. My energy is within you. There is no difference between the spiritual self within you and me. The energy that dwells within us is part of the greater energy that controls everything. The only difference is how we treat that spiritual self.
“IS THIS GURU RIGHT FOR ME?”
You may then wonder what a Guru is supposed to teach you. The teaching, in essence, asks you to answer a simple question: “Am I happy all the time?” If the answer is no, then you know that you are not on the right track. You feel directionless; you’re not connected to your self; and, you fall back into your old ways and bad habits.
A Guru will show you that each one of your problems is resolved when you believe that the Divine will take care of them. You will no longer worry about living as you will be truly successful. That clutter in your mind, the one filled worry, shame, hatred, anger, fear, frustrations and all manner of negative thoughts is cleared up. When there is nothing but clarity, you will be able to listen to the voice of the Divine.
“I FOUND MY GURU. NOW WHAT?”
What does it mean to surrender in totality to the Divine? It is when you accept everything that happens to you as a blessing or gift from the Divine. You will never worry about the challenges to your ego because you will operate at a soul level and nothing will affect you. It can be something as simple as reading this article or coming face-to-face with a Guru.
What happens when you have nothing left to surrender? Would you still need a Guru? Would this Guru still be right for you? I asked some of my students these questions and here’s one answer:
“Let me use the analogy of my mother taking me to school. She holds my hand as we take the path that leads to the school. I know that once I’m in school, I will become immersed in the lessons and will no longer focus on holding my mother’s hand. It doesn’t mean that I forget my mother. I still love and want her near. But I don’t need to hold her hand anymore. Until I reach the school though, I trust her to take me on the right path to reach this school. I’m not scared and I don’t worry that I’m on the wrong path.
“Likewise, when I choose a Guru that is right for me, I know that what awaits me is a point when I will be in eternal communion with the Divine. Once I am there, holding the Guru’s hand will become immaterial because I won’t even think about it. Until I get there, though, I will enjoy this walk with my Guru. I surrender the worries and fears to him for he will not let me fall. And when there’s nothing left to surrender, while I am still on this journey with the Guru, I will look at the world around me. I will live. I will be happy.”
SwamiGuru is the Founder of 7C Life RealiZation Centre. The aim of those within 7C Life is to teach people to achieve clarity of mind and live successful lives by practising mindfulness. SwamiGuru’s teachings have been delivered through mind focus classes, retreats, personal interactions and counselling sessions. For more information, please visit http://www.7clife.org
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