The Kumbh Mela, held every twelve years in Allahabad, India, is a celebration of the universality of the soul, of all the souls of all the creatures, each and every one of them possessed by consciousness and with a valid place in the cosmic order of incarnations. In these dark days in the age of Kali, the remembering Hindus of the world descend on this Place of God where the revered streams of the male Yamuna and the female Ganges merge and become one. Furthermore to remember the notion that singularity emerges from the many tributaries of a river before it becomes one with the sea. The river itself is material and therefore an appropriate metaphor for the materialism that is our life; the solubility of our immaterial soul into the ocean of universal consciousness being the ultimate point of existence, just as the ocean is the ultimate point and destination of a river.
Recently I thought to visit a friend who runs a small and successful cafe catering to the Japanese backpacking crowd, she herself being from that distant archipelago on the fringe of Asia. As usual her place was tidy and without the bothersome flies which can make other cramped quarters comfortless. Playing inconspicuously on her laptop was a deliberately muted film whilst the sound emanating from the speakers was some kind of hypnotic trance music. The music was appropriate for the organised chaos of the Kumbh Mela, the world’s greatest gathering of humanity; all those beating hearts in one place, all motivated by the same peaceful and utopian intent.
The documentary maker’s experience continued to unfold on the screen before the watching eyes of Lisa’s customers and the cinematographer had reached the temporary seat of a Japanese woman who had come to be known to herself and to her followers as, Yogmata Keiko Aikawa. Amid a sea of torsos almost all of which were clad in orange, yellow or red cotton cloth if indeed clad in anything at all, sat the Guru herself, the centre of all their attention as apparently she was the holder of some transcendental spiritual knowledge. She was sat on the skin of a dead leopard, it’s desiccated and dusty head sticking out from between her crossed legs, it’s legs sprawled out, flat and lifeless from underneath her saffron clothed backside.
What purpose did it serve? A cushion? Or was the dead, dry beast perhaps ready to protect her modesty with those fearsome open jaws? Alive it would surely have been more effective in discharging these duties! Had she forgotten that it too, alive, was in possession of a soul, a beating heart and a brain to coordinate thought and action? A karmic entity like herself. Perhaps a mother? Or was it, maybe just a cat. A big, dangerous and ferocious predator that had to be overcome, put in it’s place by the superior human form. The raw power and cunning of the natural world subdued by the God given intellect and ferocity of man. Seems an odd position for a spiritual person to adopt.
There is never a day that passes by entirely that I don’t think of my sepia striped jungle cat, Axio. He spends almost all of the hours of his life roaming in the high altitude mixed woodland of Himachal Pradesh, surviving as cats do in their natural environment. When he visits the verandah of his birth his coat is thick and shaggy, like the snow leopard found in the valleys and on the ridges of neighbouring ranges. Strong, muscular, healthy limbs. Teeth gleaming white. His days of bringing prey to the house have long gone and his visits are brief, as well as being few and far between. On one occasion he revealed another side to his nature, the reality of the true depth of his character.
On one moonless night, whose darkness had been compounded by the supply of electricity failing to reach the streetlights that were screwed haphazardly into the concrete walls that lined both sides of a tight alley, my black cat overcame his territorial limitations and joined me – far from the safety of our home. I had been reluctantly but necessarily on my way to confront the keeper of a small shop, involving a private matter that had come to sour our acquaintanceship. It was not that much farther to the step of his premises when Axio appeared from the blackness and leapt onto a small ledge that protruded from the wall rising on my left, and up onto my shoulder. Axio the cat seemed to understand the concept that families stick together in troubled times and that he was a member of mine and me of his. He also seemed to be aware of the nature of timing, choosing the last possible moment to make his leap. Any later and without any shadow of a doubt, the small pack of hungry village dogs that gathered to sleep at one end of the alleyway would have sensed a meal and charged at him, salivating.
When I appeared at the shop’s door with a black cat sitting on my shoulder the argument was settled. The majesty, beauty, dynamism and imagination of the cat is best demonstrated during it’s lifetime spent as one, not as a cushion for a pompous ass.
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