All posts tagged Nepal Valley

  • दु:ख

     

    October 2, 1864

    Swayambhu Mahachaitya, Nepal

    Prince Trailokya reached the base of the hill stopped looked up traced the innumerable roughly-hewn stone steps lining both sides of the steep stairway that lead uncertainly up to Swayambhu Chaitya. Although invisible from where he stood, he knew that Swayambhu loomed on top of the hill, watching over the valley, tranquil yet shrouded in an aura of mystery. Beggars daemons spirits monks scowling gods lined both sides of the path, some carved of stone and others of flesh and bone. From where he stood it was difficult to discern which was which. Flickering memories of his first official visit to Swayambhu, now many years ago, passed through him. But the images were disconnected, blurred by time. They only increased in Prince Trailokya the sense of mystery emanating form Swayambhu.

    He started walking up the stairs with resolve, steadying himself on the occasional brush or statue lining the steep path. Jung Bahadur’s spy, masquerading as an umbrella-bearing servant, kept pace immediately behind him. The presence of Jung Bahadur’s men vexed him as always. But after so many years, he was almost getting used to their presence. His attention was temporarily diverted by the sight of a monkey on a nearby wall: it peeled a banana rather elegantly, and started eating the flesh with relish. The monkey looked Trailokya straight in the eye. Trailokya startled…

    How can this lowly animal have such deep, knowing eyes?

    Beggars of various ilk lining the paths wailed दुहाई… दुहाई … at Trailokya. Some had entire legs missing. Some brandished their arms, gnawed off from leprosy, mere stumps sticking out from shoulders. One woman grabbed Prince Trailokya’s legs with manic enthusiasm as he passed by, and shoved the face of a blind child directly at him. The child had चिप्रा around its eyes, semi-dry snot running down its nose. Trailokya wondered whether the woman was the child’s mother, and asked himself: would it be better if she were, or would it in fact be better if she were not?

    In the mean time, Jung Bahadur’s guard had managed to scold the woman away. Outwardly, Prince Trailokya kept a stony face as he had been trained to do, but this scene pierced deep into his soul and troubled him for some strange reason. He climbed up a few more flights of stairs in gloomy silence. Then remembering something he reached into the large sack carried by the bodyguard, and began doling out the appropriate amounts of rice and coins to the beggars, starting back with the intruding woman.

    Now at the top of the long flight of stairs, Trailokya paused in front of the enormous metal object that essentially blocked his path. Resting on a decorated pedestal, flanked by two fierce lions, this object appeared to be made of copper, and had bulbous arches which ballooned out on both sides from the center. Trailokya would have guessed it was a weapon of war, but the middle of the object, where the warrior would grasp the weapon if this were indeed one, was a large sphere and would have provided an awkward grasp.

    Why does this object, which I know nothing about, exude a sense of power and quiet confidence?

    Trailokya reminded himself to ask his royal instructors about it upon his return to the palace.  But now his attention was drawn to the main attraction that lay imposing in front of him… the formidable structure that drew in all pilgrims, the motif that could be seen from every corner of Nepal valley if only the supplicant were to look up towards the hills. An enormous dome that filled the sky. So enormous that he could not see the top from where he stood.

    Trailokya walked away towards the open space to the left so that he could see the entire dome.  He stopped, transfixed. Those sad, burdened, eternal eyes gazed serenely at him. At all of Nepal valley. Those tranquil knowing eyes that seemed to absorb all दु:ख and emitted but light. Whose eyes were they? What were they feeling? Why did the tika between the eyes spiral out like a swirling vortex? And why was the nose apparently shaped like the number one? Trailokya drifted through these questions for a long time, transfixed by the solemn gaze of the one that seemed to see all and know all.

     

    [To be continued….]

    ∫∫∫

    Image 1: Pata depicting the Swayambhunath complex. Late 17th century. 90 x 70 cm. Private collection, Paris. ]

    Image 2: Detail of the harmika from Swayambhu mahachaitya, depicting the eyes of Adi Buddha. Photo © Author. 

  • Return to The Uncreate

     

    नासदासीन्नो सदासीत्तदानीं नासीद्रजो नो व्योमा परो यत् |
    किमावरीवः कुह कस्य शर्मन्नम्भः किमासीद्गहनं गभीरम् ||

     


    कामस्तदग्रे समवर्तताधि मनसो रेतः प्रथमं यदासीत् |
    सतो बन्धुमसति निरविन्दन् हृदि प्रतीष्या कवयो मनीषा ||

     

    ऋग्वेद मण्डल १० सुक्त १२९           

    The nonexistent did not exist, nor did the existent exist at that time. There existed neither the airy space nor heaven beyond.
    What then moved back and forth? From where and under whose protection? Did water exist, a deep depth?

    Then, in the beginning, from thought there evolved desire, which existed as the primal semen.
    Searching in their hearts through inspired thought, poets found the connection of the existent in the nonexistent.

    Rig Ved X.129

    ∫∫∫

    इदमित्था रौद्रं गूर्तवचा ब्रह्म क्रत्वा शच्यामन्तराजौ | …
    कृष्णा यद गोष्वरुणीषु सीदद्दिवो…



    महे यत्पित्र ईं रसं दिवे करव त्सरत्पृशन्यश्चिकित्वान् ।
    सर्जदस्ता धृषता दिद्युमस्मै स्वायां॑ देवो दुहितरि तविषिं धात ||…


    प्रथिष्ट यस्य वीरकर्ममिष्णदनुष्ठितं नु नर्यो अपौहत् |
    पुनस्तदा बृहति यत्कनाया दुहितुरा अनुभृतमनर्वा ||…

    …मक्षू न वह्निः प्रजाया…

    ऋग्वेद मण्डल १० सुक्त ६१/मण्डल १ सुक्त ७१     

    Here is a Rudra myth which he produced with his mental powers…
    When the darkred cows of dawn came and rested with the black cows of night…

    … noting the caresses of Father Heaven upon Usha, The Archer stealthily crept up on him with his bow.
    The Archer boldly shot an arrow at Father Heaven just as he was placing his seed in his own daughter…
    Discharging the seed, the manly one pulled away…
    …Like a bull in a contest he threw off foam. Heedless, she went away, hither and yon
    Right away, like a chariot-horse, came the pitter-patter of offspring…

    Rig Ved X.61 and I.71

    ∫∫∫

    स भूरिति व्याहरत्सेयम् पृथ्विआभावध्भुव: इति |
    तदितमन्तरिक्षमाभावत्स्वरिति सासौं द्यौराभावत् ||

    शतपथ ब्राम्हण ११.१.६.३

     

    Prajapati uttered bhu and the word became Earth. He uttered bhuwa, it became Intermediary Space. He uttered swa, it became Celestial Sky.

    Satapatha Brahmana XI.i.6.3

    ∫∫∫

    Some day in the 1860s
    Nepal and environs

    She came North like lodestone drawn to magnetic core. Through the scatterhuts of Tarai. Came in through Bichhakhori, Dhukuwabaas, stayed a night at the tuhuro taharo in Hetauda, then to Bhimphedi, paid nothing in custom duties at Chisapani Gadhi. Passed Gorkhali men with handsome mustaches swaying regal elephants, little bridegirls in hiding in reds inside dolis Magars Tamangs Gurungs Newas carrying enormous loads up and down steep trails, no shoes to feet. Sherpas on their long journey from the mountains down to Gaya and back accumulating merit. Kashmiri merchants returning to Indra Chok with the year’s supply of churaa potey blankets small mirrors tiny dreams for little girls of Nepal. Further up the hills, where the moisture condenses refreshing upon sun-starked faces, makeshift chortens appeared. She re-stacked them with rocks from streams, visualized all the Buddhas. After the derelict mines of Tama Khani, She decided on a whim to turn towards Chitlang and forego the shorter route to Nepal through Pharping, jealously kept secret by the current ruler (the child that he is).

    The steep climb to Thankot was as difficult as before. But when She took the last unforgiving step onto the ridge, Nepal opened up in front of Her just as She had remembered it. Ganesh, Dorje Lhakpa, Langtang, Gauri Shankar like fatherly giants embraced the valley from the North, and simmered yellowgold in the late afternoon sun. A few gray clouds nestled among sharp folds of the mountains deposited snow softly on the slopes: fururururu. Wiping sweat off with patukaa, She collapsed onto a rock and surveyed Nepal.  A lazy breeze started from the familiar mountains, gathered momentum as it rolled through the valley, and spilled wanton over the ridges of Thankot.  With it came the densemystic aromas of Nepal that triggered a thousand different associations in Her. The smoky holiness of the oil-lamps in the temple outside Her childhood window. The eternal sweet semi-rot in the dark alleys behind her house. The pungent rust on that Tibetan lock dulled by constant touch of skin and sweat.

    Refreshed, Her eyes descended from the valley rim and traced the imperfectly perfect terraced fields lovingly carved into hills by bare hands. Fields that fused into the landscape as if they had existed before man. Fields repeating in swirls and cascades further and further down the slopes, until they reached deep into the settlements sprawled below. There, the houses and shacks bunchedup in three careless groups. Patan, Kathmandu and Bhadgaun over there, all glowing deep baked red in the waning sun. And rising regally above them the sharp gold temple roofs and white stupas with eternal eyes, relics of an enchanted culture crushed to submission by later invaders, and yet standing majestic.

    She got up, brought Her palms together above Her head. Namaskaar.

    I am ready.

    She let go of Her fears.

    She dived headlong into the valley. Buoyed by warmrain currents, She looked left towards Swayambhu. Swayambhu’s eyes gazed serene. But She looked away singed with a vague feeling of collective guilt from her country’s neglect of him somehow in these later centuries. She floated a bit hurriedly towards Pashupati. She landed softly on the nearer bank of Bagmati, rested awhile on a severe bed of stone before being moved to another bed of stacked wood. She accepted a few drops of the sacred water, allowed Her hair to be unbraided, spread out.

    She let go of Her body.

    She floated up again, much lightened now, buoyed by heat of flames, swirling smoke ashes dust towards Patan.

    Looking down at the valley from here, She noticed a pattern: terraced fields carved into terraced hills mirrored the terraced steps leading to terraced temples beside terraced water tanks dotting every tol of the valley. Who were the artisans responsible for all this? They had become completely drunk with the natural terraced rhythms of the valley, and had let the fever flow through their hands and onto their shaped places of worship and living. By creating, they had offended Nature. They had cut at her very slopes and mounds. But they had atoned for their sin by the very products of their offense: divine offerings that gently blended in and out of Nature. What drove them to create so? In mirroring, were they simply borrowing? Or were they conveying a deeper message? Something settled quietly, comfortably inside Her as the harmony seeped in. She felt again that tug at Her consciousness.

    Come here.

    Look. In here.

    But even in Her lightened state, She did not yet see.

    Patan emerged. She glided down, looked upon a group of Newa girls walking towards Bagmati bridge to the North, carrying plates of flowers rice sweets, a respectful distance behind the men with their dhimay drums bhusyah cymbals pwaga trumpets and dhunya poles spinning whirly dervy to the music.  She decided to alight and walk with the girls, each adored with devilish slim eyes, set in piercing black  and white within sensuous eyelids swollen just so, seductive flowers stuck to finecombed hair parted through the middle and pulled tightly back into thick braids, no feminine sindur yet — except for a little red tika on the forehead that alas opened the door already — wafting aromas of tori ko tel and pure youth, wrapped in sari and patukaa, a blend of white, red and black. She smiled at this accidental blending of the satwa rajat tamas colors. The girls smiled back at Her.

    They can… see me… Perhaps the colors were not accidental at all?

    After crossing Bagmati bridge, She left the girls to their procession and kaane-khusi, and turned left to follow the banks of Bagmati, pulled along by that gentle tug, now growing stronger. Passing Tripureswor, Pachali Bhairav, then northwards following Bishnumati, a slight right passing the venerable Maru Sattah sitting derelict yet grandfatherly, welcoming all seekers, kings to kanphatta yogis, then crossing the border between warring  Yangal and Yambu, towards the opulent palace complex of the Mallas, today occupied by the former invaders who had now been invaded upon by the new ruler. She approached, made Her way through the thick crowd that had gathered for Yenyaa, passed the unfortunate Kot on the left, circled the large irregular courtyard once in the good direction, now passing Taleju Mandir, which tonight would be graced with the presence of the other Blood-Devi, the fiery woman who was also a virginyoung girl. Now politely ignoring  Pratap Malla’s frivolous inscription in fifteen languages, now peeking inadvertently inside the Hanumandhoka gate (because we Nepalis have this relentless curiosity towards our Kings), now towards the exposed Swet Bhairab, fierce and benign, granting his annual Darshan. Now smiling at the small Indra confined in ropes really for his grave offense against Nepal long ago but ostensibly for his much smaller offense of stealing flowers in more recent times, while people around him celebrate a jatra apparently in his name. She was pulled towards the tall yahsim pole at the center of it all. She had arrived. The heart of Nepal Mandal. Indra Dhwaja. Axis mundi. The center that remains unmoved as the mandal turns. The sense of peace within swelled immense. She looked at the townsfolk, now shaking shouting eyes out of focus dancing singular around the yahsim pole.

    She looked at the vaguely familiar temples from her childhood surrounding Her on all sides, their terraces stacked towards the sky. Temples risen from the ground with a clean symmetry straight through the middle, reaching a consummation at the tip of the gajurs all pointed upwards. Then over to the hills with their own carved terraces stacked upwards before being overwhelmed by the natural contour of the hills, also tapering upwards. All  around Her a symphony of symbols rising, pointing up, urging mortals towards a meaning. But what? Lingering on the gajurs, She imagined them as inverted purna kalashas, containers of amrit, of Soma itself, collected from the heavens. By inverting them, the temple artisans perhaps wanted Soma to spill down to earth, through the temple sanctum. But Soma is myth. What does spill down every year from the heavens is rain… Rain brings life. Could Soma be… Did the artisans know?

    The tug at Her consciousness now intense, almost painful without being so. She still did not understand but the answer welled within. But… what is that? On the struts supporting those roofs: man and woman coupled. Two men pleasuring a woman. Man and animal… in a temple?

    Suddenly, a long thin bamboo tube appeared from the mouth of Swet Bhairab. The crowd now in complete frenzy blended into a flurry of bodies and roars. Liquid gushed down freely from the tube into welcome mouths reaching out from the whirlydirvy  of humanity.

    Yes, Soma is water is wine is all.

    Again, She looked up at the yahsim pole, brought Her palms together above Her head. Namaskaar. The nerves at the tips of Her fingers tingled in union with their mates on the other… hand.

    She was ready.

    She let go of Her mind.

    She floated up the pole, towards the sky. Higher and higher into the heavens. Upward. Backward in time. Inward. Beyond Yangal and Yambu, which fused into one, then to none. Beyond Buddha and now even beyond Shiva. Beyond male and female. She was blessed with a darshan of Ardhanariswara. Yab and Yum in tight coupling. Now further up. 

    Further back.

    Further in.

    Beyond me and you. Beyond the living and the dead. Further beyond, back towards the very beginning passing Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswar.

    Beyond bhur bhuwah swa, the first words. Beyond Prajapati’s desire, and then beyond the first thought. She became the golden egg, undivided. She became the doe at Dawn, Usha. She became The Archer, Pashupati himself in his old guise of Rudra, advancing furtively towards Prajapati with bow and arrow, trying to stop the cosmic violation that was about to transpire. Rudra shot his arrow. It pierced Prajapati. The arrow caused an effusion of seed from Prajapati. The arrow caused time to flow, forward. At this cosmic moment, She had a choice: go forward and become the doe again, the Dawn of this universe. Or go back. She chose to go back. She became Prajapati. Further back. Further in.

    She went beyond ॐ. 

    She suddenly felt an eternal stillness. She had arrived at the Uncreate.

    The nothingness that does not negate. The emptiness that is not meaningless. The void that is utter eternal throbbing peace.

    At that moment, She became That.

    तत् त्वम् असि.

    ∫∫∫

    No Time
    Brahma

    she reveled in the uncreate. she was free of sin guilt desire courage. she was free of freedom. she looked inward and saw outward. she smiled at the deceit of humans who had learned to separate the two. gently she sifted through questions she already knew the answers to. if it was indeed the perfect state why was the perfection of eternal uncreate violated? why did father look with lust at usha at dawn? why did krishna frolic with the maidens so?

    at that time when time had not begun the universe erupted forth with a big burst. out of an excess of creative potential. out of love. of a desire for generation rather than stasis. the first lusting the first cosmic violation. the big burst of love created space. created the amusing delusion of time. the universe grew. tiny bundled of energy vibrated in loving memory of the recently departed uncreate. some bundles collected together shared their vibrations and formed air metal water.

    she reveled in the uncreate. she became the uncreate. she became krishna his mouth wide open the universe contained within. she was filled with tender love for this rock that hill the tree over there all filled with a tiny sprinkling of the uncreate. every bit of matter in the universe carrying seeds of the uncreate from the original big burst. so the universe expands the memory dims yet always nudges at the answer. the gravity of original oneness pulls all matter back. pulls us back too. tugs gently at these bundles of energy still vibrating aeons later with the faint memory of the original uncreate. trying to unite us all back into one.

    come here.

    look.

    in here.

    now i am here.

    now when i meet you i will not harm you invade you posses you be afraid of you for when i harm you i harm the eternal uncreate within you. which is the eternal uncreate within me. for smiling i know she knows we are all one.

    she marveled at the ancient sages who had thought through the origin story and had sealed it in wellformed hymns of the rig ved and what followed afterwards. stories of father-daughter pairs. prajapati-usha. brahma-gayatri. stories glowing with the fervor of original love and yet heavy with the catastrophe of cosmic violation. stories that were therefore cast as catastrophes of social violation. stories also inspired by the cosmic drama acted out in the early morning skies every day as the darkred cows of dawn came to rest with the black cows of night and furtive sirius crept up on orion as he was lusting after alderbaran. paradoxical stories told using aged fathers and young daughters with utter disregard to the flow of time for time had not begun. stories that recognized the further paradox of eternal perfection violating itself and so weaved in shiva in his original form of rudra creeping up on father heaven in a doomed effort to stop the impending violation of perfection. complex stories that were ultimately pure thoughts emanating from the ancients sages. thoughts that were acts of creation much like the one the ancient sages had commemorated in their hymns. out of nothing something had been willed into existence. in the cosmic story. but also in the stories of the rig ved and what followed afterwards. by their creative powers the ancient sages had paid homage to the eternal uncreate but had also encroached upon the realm of the uncreate by themselves creating. the hymns carried the dual story of rebellion and devotion intimately entwined and superbly crafted.

    she reveled in the uncreate. she saw the universe once created suffer its own laws of physics. the vibrating bundles of energy grouped together into colonies. colonies began to move eat make copies of themselves. some moved to land. much later each colony developed a curious habit called self and a curioser habit called ego. the maya of original love decayed into the maya of shackles. the collection of cells used ego first for survival then for innovation and finally for dominance. the tentacles of maya grew. ensnared the universe. suffocated it. like an erect tree that withers and disintegrates into the very ground from whence it sprang, all succumbed to the arrow of time — none other than rudra’s stillairborn arrow from the beginning. weary the universe closed its eyes breathed out and went back to sunya. to eternal peace. to the eternal uncreate.

    the white satwa of creation had blossomed into a ruddy rajat life and ended with a black tamaasha.

    she also knew like the ancient sages that the myth did not stop with one cycle of creation. the uncreate the throbbing excess potential wanted to create again. wanted to love again. so the father looked askance at usha the dawn at the dawn of a universe again. out of the eternal stillness burst forth a miniscule entity and shot upward. another miniscule entity of the opposite kind shot downward. the act of love thus ruptured peace and engendered seed. or in another modern myth the vibrating mbrane of shiva kissed the vibrating mbrane of shakti. at the kissingpoint of violation another big burst another opening up of space another myth of time another universe. expand. dissipate. breathe out. back to sunya. repeat.

    she reveled in the uncreate. the matrix of creative potential energy pulsating with all realities. she lived through infinite repetitions of creation. the infinite energy of her tapas uncurled hidden dimensions which now lay resplendent before her. she traveled joyously through these new dimensions. she walked backward inside the times of each universe. she danced with prajapati who was herself and father heaven and also his daughter usha. she imagined multiple universes bubbling up at the same instance with their own myths of time. feeling playful she bent the universes into arcs. she brought two together facing outward and had them exchange histories. she joined and looped all the universes back onto themselves creating a bouquet of fractals that sprouted new leaves that looped back over and over and did not end. she immersed herself onto this unending cosmic fractal pattern and danced in multiple universes at the same instance forever.

    she became nataraj.

    every cell in her a universe. every breath in the original big burst. every breath out a collapse and return to the uncreate. 

    she reveled in the uncreate. playing childlike with the universes she picked up that one over there entered its unique manifold found a small milky galaxy floated over to a pale star then to a vibrant blue planet with patches of brown and oozing pregnant green decorated lightly all over with soft tuffs of gentle white. she singled out a valley crested with whitesnow mountains and laced languidly with bounteous rivers and dotted with towns in the shape of sacred mandals. she had arrived again in nepal. the terrace temple steps into terrace roofs leaping to terrace hills teasing into one. she saw again the satwa rajat tamas colors in the saris of the newa girls blending into one. the tall yahsim pole during yenyaa reuniting the egg-halves of heaven and earth into one. the same yahsim pole that had initiated her journey into one. the temples their rigidly defined central axes emulating the axis mundi pointing to one. temples with an inverted vase on the roofs pouring down soma to the profane earth from the one. the same roofs with an open portal at the top making easier the reverse journey into one. 

    she marveled at the art of the newas who had taken the complex threads of their ancestry to create a fabric that was uniquely of the valley. One thread looped in the wet rice plantations of the yellow river basin to the north. another thread pulled on traces of matrikas ajimas and dakinis from the very soil and ancient underground of the valley. but the defining thread in the weave was the memories of the ancient sages from the south. out of this complex thricetwined fabric they had crafted offerings all through the valley to deities who were but intermediaries to the eternal uncreate.

    but she saw that the newas had gone further. like the ancient sages before them the newas looked at the eternal cycle between blissful stasis and creation and wondered

    what about me? how do i leave my mark in this unending drama?

    and so knowing their own cosmic impermanence they strove for permanence. defiantly. inspired by the natural architecture of the undulating hills around them they created art of unearthly beauty primarily as an homage to the uncreate but also as a personal if doomed statement of rebellion. the boisterous craftsmanship of the temples meandering leisurely into artful eaves and roof corners verging on the carnal and sometimes blatantly so. flirtations with diagonal spaces that violated the rigorous vertical order of the axis mundi — and yet did not stray far by paying central respect to it. the further mischief of the overturned kalash pouring down soma a bold original creation elegantly fusing the divine and the worldly. the exuberant dances and the wanton jatras dedicated to the uncreate but in the excesses of their execution the grisly skulls the gratuitous reds loudly tipping  the scales towards this side their side our side the human side the drunken imperfect here and now which after all is very far from the eternal uncreate.

    thus had the newas carved out a wedge in the cosmic cycle of stasis and creation and populated it with bold shapings of wood stone metal clay fine paint ink using bare hands. works of art dropped like utter lonely anchors over millennia in this puny universe ultimately doomed to extinction with the next breathe out. but knowing this they had still created. these flickering beacons of original thought of hope for mortals struggling to find a connection from the sad here and now to the eternal uncreate.

    this bittersweet newa homage to the uncreate was writ loud across nepal. they wanted to make sure the messages were heard. distinctly. so that aeons later if a stranger came to nepal valley and looked around at the hills the terraces the temples the obscene couplings the wanton dances the yahsim pole they would hear resonating through all of the valley:

    look

    up there

    in here

    ∫∫∫

    English excerpts of the Rig Ved based on The Rigveda: The Earliest Religious Poetry of India. An English Translation by S. W. Jamison and J. P. Brereton, Oxford University Press, 2014

    Satapatha Brahmana translation from Satapatha Brahmana According to the Text of the Madhyandina School, Part V, translated by J. Eggeling, Oxford University Press, 1882.

     

  • Rain

    रजितसुगतमुकुटमणिचरणं निर्जितनिखिलविबुधनशरणं।
    . . .
    इति श्रीमहाराजाधिराजराजेन्द्र श्री २ कवीन्द्र-जयप्रताप मल्ल देव विरचितं वृष्टिचिन्तामणिर्नाम स्तोत्रं सम्पूर्ण।।

    ∫∫∫

     

    June 16, 1841

    Nepal Valley

    It started yonder, over the slopes of Chandragiri. Our Chandragiri, whose central bulk resembles a majestic elephant head when seen from parts of our valley. Pluffywite clouds, scattered about but only yesterday, colluded over the elephant head of Chandragiri, doing कानेखुसि in a language we did not understand. Soon they gathered into large imposing masses. The wind picked up. The clouds swirled northward. They gathered moisture, gathered purpose, darkened in color, became a single impenetrable slab by the time they arrived over Thapathali. In time, the mass stretched outward, reaching for the surrounding hills and beyond. Soon it loomed densemysterious over all of Nepal, in shades of blueblack,fringed in deep gray. A pregnant promise. A hint of malice. It was only midday, but the dense cover made us think it was two ghadis after sunset. If we had aspired, we could have easily touched the thick molasses swirling over the valley with our bare hands.  But we never did. 

    The soul-scorching bare heat of the direct sun was gone, but a sweltering stickiness still lay heavy in the air. Our perennial crows and sparrows were unusually quiet. The galli dogs roamed restless, also in silence. Indeed the entire valley was quiet. A tense quiet, as if the animals the trees the hills the gods were waiting.

    Then

    मिलिक्…मिलिक्…

    झिलिक्क

    Angry slivers of lightning flared over Mangal Bazaar, Tudikhel, then Kirtipur. The light rushed off to the hills, made the peripheries of Nepal glow incandescent for fleeting moments: now Phulchoki, now Nagarjun and now Kakani lit up in turn with an unnatural light, penetrating the otherwise all-encompassing darkness. 

    The briefest of silences ensued. Followed by

    ढड्याङ्…ढड्याङ्…

    ढड्याङ्ङ्ङ्ङ्ङ्ङ

    Suddenly, no human or animal was in sight. All of us yielded the valley to Nature, for this was a time for Nature to assert herself – her Peacock Dance – and us mortals stepped aside in stupefied awe. We huddled inside our brickhouses. The dogs and cows found shelter in the nooks of our temples and paatis. The birds snuck deep inside the temples and trees. The majestic fury of lightning and thunder continue for many pals. A celestial game of tag: the lightning flash darts, the thunder catches up, the lightning flash swerves, the thunder responds, having echoed back from the hills. 

    Then another silence. This time a more relieved silence, like the silence at the end of a fierce war. But still pregnant if that is possible. The theatrics of Nature had not satiated us. Having shaken us, it had somehow increased our anticipation.

    In utter silence, then, the dark gray clouds scurried hither. The deep blue clouds slithered yon. The silence made the performance more intimidating…almost demonic.

    The third and final act started slowly. The first few tentative drollops landed randomly on the vegetation behind our houses, causing a loud haphazard clatter that had no rhythm to it. The pitter patter bent the long corn leaves in unnatural angles. The fragile soybean leaves shook occasionally on contact. It was a reunion dance, but the plants seemed to be offended that the initial steps were so awkward.  The twirlyswirls of the lahare cucumber clinging to the garden walls mostly stayed out of it and just swayed in the breeze. In front of our houses, the large splats broke up into a hundred small droplets on hitting the parched tiles and bricks of our chowks and temple squares. The droplets created temporary scars where they fell, but warmed by the stored heat of the brickwork, evaporated quickly into nothingness. This first contact of water and earth did leave behind a more lasting gift: a subtle organic smell of soil roused by the moisture, the smell of dust not yet turned to mud, permeated the air. A smell dearly familiar to all of us.

    In time the pitter-patter grew louder, more frequent, and picikingupspeed quickly reached a crescendo as Indra appeared, soared swiftly across the sky, and slit the clouds open with his vajra. And lo, the heavens poured down upon us. Nourishing rain fell in massive diagonal sheets of gray onto Nepal. The Purna Kalashas had been overturned, spilling the contained Soma freely. Now even mortals could partake of it. Soma, replenisher of the dry, parched earth. Soma, agency of sustenance, nourisher of grain, ensurer of harvest. Soma, elixir of the heavens, shared without reserve with mortals for but a precious few months of the year. 

    The unrelenting downpour washed away the sweltering moist heat smothering all of Nepal. In its place came a gentle breeze. It was not exactly cold, but the steady wind and permeating wetness somehow got to our bones. It even caused the more fastidious of our bent elders to pull out siraks and blankets from storage, and cocoon themselves within.

    The rain fell on the vegetation. The initial hesitancy on first contact exhibited earlier by the leaves was gone. Now the leaves the branches the flowers all swayed in abandon in unison to the swooshing chorus of pitter-patter:

    झुम झुम झुम झुम 

    झम झम झम झम

    The rain fell on our galli dogs, who meandered around the streets, before curling up into balls anywhere it took their fancy, heads tucked snug under flanks, soon sound asleep, as unmoved by the drenching rain as they were earlier moved into hiding by the thunder.

    The rain fell on our pigeons. They stirred, flew about desultory among the temples and squares, got drenched. Changing their minds, they returned to the temple struts, rafters and eaves, shook their bodies violently, succeeded partially in warding off the water, then stared vacant from their perches with frazzled feathers and spiky necks. The crows and sparrows remained in hiding.

    The rain fell on Singu hill, where the eternal eyes of Swayambhu gazed serene. Swayambhu, the self-existent, of flame, of crystal, who had seen so much and had forgiven us all, with utter, utter compassion.

    The rain fell, too, on our rain gods,whom we had beseeched to send us rain. It fell on Pashupati, whom we had lustrated with holy water last month so he would cause rain. It fell on Matsyendranath’s chariot, which we had pulled into Jawalakhel just last week. It fell on all the subterranean serpents and their king, Karkotak, to whom we had already paid the proper homage. It fell too on the statues of Indra, original ancient god of rain. We might have ignored him somewhat in the last few centuries, but we would for sure worship him in a few months time – with a festive entirely to his name, we would like to point out.

    The rain fell on the courtyards of our bahas and bahis, our tols and gallis, our sattals and patis. The rain washed away the accumulated dust the feces the cow droppings the rotting rice from our rachhans. We were grateful for this. 

    But along with these the rain also washed away, little by little, the silay that joined the bricks of our temples and houses. It washed away the rich nurturing soil from our terraced fields. Little by little, it clawed on our statues and temples, sculpted miracles in wood metal stone. And little by little, it washed away a bit of ourselves, in rivulets and streams trickling through our gallis first, then collecting in our chowks, pouring off into Manohara and Tukucha and Nakkhu, before gathering momentum in the unified torrents of Bagmati and Bishnumati at Teku. The willing swirling waters then carried it all, all away to Balkhu, to Chobar, and finally out of the valley through the swirling waters past Karyabinayak and through the hills towards Ganga, towards Kashi, and for better or for worse, as it always has and as it perhaps always will,  always, always, towards India.

     

    ∫∫∫

     

    Jung Bahadur looked up at the rain. When was this useless downpour going to let up? He was itching to get some exercise out in the open but the rain had kept him indoors for days. He looked sideways at Putali Nani, who lay languid upon his chest, exhausted. Damn, her face was bewitchingly pretty… it got him every time.  But now she lay sound asleep, mouth slightly open, her foulish warm breath hitting him repeatedly on the neck and assaulting his nose… hints of garlic and onions. Jung Bahadur twitched his shoulders instinctively. This caused Putali Nanu to slide off his chest and slump clumsily onto the carpet. He let her be. Instead, he thought about the Darbar gossip she had shared earlier. He did not give a damn about feminine gossip, but it often contained nuggets of information, some of them useful. The Senior Rani’s recent tantrums, running off to Pashupati one day and to Hetauda the next… perpetual threats and constant ultimatums, perhaps she has truly gone mad. And Surendra, such barbarism, such lunacy at eleven years of age. He makes my life living hell when I am in service, but I can handle it and I will make sure I get something out of it. But now he is turning on his newlywed wife. How could he throw her, a child of eight years, into the pond?… and that too for the second time? And that spineless Rajendra allows all this to happen under his nose… maybe even encourages it. How can a country run like this? To hell with the whole lot of them! The next Bhimsen Thapa is coming soon, to wrest control from this weak Darbar and rule with an iron fist. I just need to find him, align myself to him, and rise as he rises…

    Surendra looked up at the rain. From his balcony above Mohan Chowk, the evil dark clouds appeared very low in the sky. The rain fell down in fearful dark torrents. Surendra slowly shifted his eyes towards the top of Basantapur tower. Vulture be gone… vulture be gone… Sonofawhore! The vulture was still there, perched menacingly above the gajur. Now, sensing Surendra’s presence, the vulture slowly turned its neck and stared with sunken evil eyes directly at him. It would soon stretch its naked pink neck, spread its ugly wings, and scoop down through the courtyard to pick out his eyes. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod. Up above, the entire celestial weight of the sky was coming down on him, lower and lower, unrelenting, pressing down upon his head, shoulders, chest… The pressure was becoming unbearable. He tried to move, but was gripped by fear. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod. Beside him, someone was standing with folded arms, pleading with him about something. Vaguely he caught a few words: nightfall… Her Royal Highness… pneumonia… forgive and forget… Was that a real person speaking? Was it an apparition? But he had no time to decide. He was going to be crushed under the weight of the entire sky soon,  crushed like a bug, blood splattered everywhere. Or the vulture would pick at his eyes and his brains through the holes in his skull. Or Bhimsen Thapa’s ghost would come and try to “talk some sense” into him again. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod.

    Brian Hodgson looked up at the rain. The reading room at the Residency was a perfect roost to take in the sweet melancholy of these Monsoon rains. He was worried about the Nepal Durbar. News of our recent losses in China seemed to have rekindled the dormant Goorkha Spirit. The Rajah talks openly about alliancing with Punjab and the Persians against us.  For all his feebleness, the Rajah does have a handsome grasp of Asian affairs and of the most fitting chess move that places his Durbar at the next position of optimal advantage… If only he would put his domestic affairs in order and control the Senior Rani and Heir Apparent. The Rajah believes he is playing a sound game of chess in the domestic front too, but he fools himself. Ere long, some knight will leap out unexpected and checkmate him at his own game. Has be forgotten already the hard-earned lessons of the Bhimsen Thapa tragedy?

    Laccho looked up at the rain. The raindrops hit her directly on the eyes and it hurt, so she looked down again. The water in the pond lapped dangerously around her shoulders. She had to stand fully straight so that it did not get to her chin or into her ears. At the same time, she was trying very hard not to lose her foothold on the slippery bricks underneath: the bricks were smooth, and the soles of her feel could feel a layer of moss along the surface, which made the bricks even more slippery. One false step and I will slip, and drown. The water had wrinkled the tips of her fingers a long time ago. It was not exactly cold, but she was beginning to shiver. हे दइब! I don’t understand why this is happening. They told me everything would be better after the wedding. They said I was going to be a queen of this awful country someday. So why is he treating me like this? And why does Ajima not come to rescue me? Why does the Senior Queen not come? Isn’t she from Gorakhpur too? How could she stand by and let that beast do this to me? Someone, please come in through that courtyard and save me before night comes. The darkness is sure to confuse my balance and kill me… she looked up cowering towards the dreaded Basuki Naag on top of the massive pole in the middle of the pond…Or maybe that serpent will… They say it sometimes leaps out of the pole and swallows small children under cover of night…

    Dhan Sundar looked up at the rain. Very good. He smiled. If it continues like this for a few days, the fields will be ready for transplantation exactly on Ashar 15. He thought of the merry march to the fields, his brothers sisters uncles cousins neighbors in-laws shouting laughing all the way, the terraced fields lying serene, brimming with water, the sky reflected clearly on the undisturbed surface of each terrace, the soothing feeling of wet mud squeezing in between his toes, the croaking frogs and chirping crickets, the drinking,  the open flirting among young and old. He thought of the song his father-in-law was sure to sing during sinaajya.  In anticipation, he started humming it himself:

    भा पिल झाय ला जि बोना याने ला
    मन जा चिव लिसे ओल ह्नम
    आयाले भाजु हाय सिःनाज्या नि ओने
    ज्यामियात बजि नके मा नि ह्नम…

    ∫∫∫

    Opening Sanskrit text: The first and last lines of  Vrishti-Chintamani, a charm of rain in 34 stanzas by King Pratap Malla, from a copy in the Cambridge University Library collection.

    Closing Newari text: Excerpt from a sihnajya (rice transplantation) song, published in Songs of Nepal: An Anthology of Nevar Folksongs and Hymns by Siegfried Lienhard.