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Vol. 8, No. 2, 2009
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Michael J. Evans



Michael Evans, a former art educator, is a West Coast artist, photographer and writer, who travels to India to find inspiration and spiritual renewal. For more details, visit:


Historian Michael Wood’s excellent six part series “The Story of India” aired recently on PBS. In the third episode, he touched on the rise of Hinduism and particularly Shaivism that occurred towards the end of the Gupta Empire around 500AD. I was reminded of my final day in Anjuna, Goa, when after making preparations for the long journey home; I decided to walk 3 klm north to the charming villages of Vagator and Chapora.

I had read that a sculpture of Shiva’s head was carved into the rocks at Little Vagator Beach. Shiva, or Siva as he is also called, is particularly revered in Southern India. Worship of him can be traced back over 8,000 years to the Indus Valley Civilization.

The road was busy and tourists flew by me on scooters, without helmets, hair flowing in the wind. I arrived at the colorful little village of Chapora with its many cafes and bars and found a quiet tree lined road that took me up along the southern edge of Chapora Fort. After scrambling up a cliff, I climbed over a gap in the rough stone outer wall and strode across to the far wall. The fort was built by the Portuguese in 1617, on the site of former Mogul bastion. It is in ruins, but being situated on the top of a headland overlooking the Chapora River, it has spectacular views across the estuary towards the northern beaches of Mandrem, Asvem and Arambol. After gazing into the distance, and seeing the surf breaking on the white sand of the Northern beaches; I worked my way back down the cliff and strode out on to Vagator Beach or Disco Alley, as locals call it.

The beach was not very crowded; there were only a few sun beds at the far end in front of the Sula Café. It was popular with Indian tourists, who favored the beach and mingled with the European tourists; the former could be seen frolicking the surf in wet saris or t-shirts, and playing Frisbee and cricket on the beach. It was a pleasant, relaxed and non-commercial atmosphere; unlike the hype and congestion of Baga and Calangute -- package holiday central -- and the slightly sleazy and grubby beach at Anjuna. The sea here was cleaner and less polluted.

Walking at water’s edge, I followed the graceful arcs of two bays and passed rows of fully occupied sun beds lined up in front of flimsy beach shacks made from bamboo and coconut palm trees. A few waiters worked the sun worshippers, bringing snacks and cold drinks. Beach vendors from Karnataka wearing beautifully coloured flowing saris and carrying bales of brightly dyed sarongs, t-shirts and beach blankets on their heads also plied their trade.

Several old Goan masseurs with gnarled hands rhythmically worked Ayurvedic oils into naked backs and fronts of their female clients. Some tourists slept, others wandered lazily into the water for a cooling swim, some women were topless. Feeling the heat, I pressed on over a low rocky outcropping that separates Vagator Beach from Little Vagator Beach, which forms a crescent shape that is orientated slightly north. A rocky headland and high cliffs at the far end prevent further foot passage to Anjuna.

Eventually, near the end of the beach I found a couple of empty sun beds and flopped onto one and started taking off my sweaty shirt and shorts. Soon, after a coating of coconut oil, the sun’s intensity and the surf’s rhythmic roar eased me into a deeply relaxed state. But my rest was soon interrupted; a beautiful young beach vendor stood at the foot of my bed, blocking the sun. I sat up.

“You buy my shirts?” She asked. “No, thank you, I don’t need one.”

“You make my lucky day, be my first customer, I give you good price.” She pleaded.

“No really, I don’t need one. I’m leaving tomorrow. This is the end of my holiday. I‘ve done all my shopping and my backpack is full.” I replied.

Easing the bundle of shirts off her head, she sat down at the end of the bed and looked at me with large bright brown eyes. She was about 17-years-old, with slender limbs and a delicate upper torso graced by high breasts that were enhanced by her choli, the tight fitting blouse that is traditionally worn with a sari. Hers was a brilliant lime green, a perfect complement to her skin that had the colour and texture of a bar of fine chocolate. Even against the sun, her perfect white teeth flashed as she talked. I sat up and replaced my sun glasses. She looked down at my feet and noticed two large red blisters where the strap of my sandals had left its mark.

“I massage your feet, trim your nails. Give you nice pedicure. ” She said.

“No really. It’s OK. The salt water will fix them.” She propped her chin up with her hand and glared at me.

“You like hair massage.” She was upping the ante, trying hard to part my money from me. Torn from the pleasure I was getting by observing her and my need for some peace and quiet, I reluctantly declined. Finally, in desperation, she pulled a sarong from her pile and said.

“Fifty rupees, you be my first customer today, yes?”

It was a good deal, but I didn’t need it. So I closed my eyes, reclined on my bed and said nothing. In a few moments, she gathered her things and prepared to leave.

“Goodbye. I’ll see you next year. I’ll buy shirts from you at the beginning of my holiday, I promise.” She turned and smiled gently.

“OK. Canadian, see you next year, ” she said good-naturedly.

We made a truce and, at the same time, struck a bargain; one I would honour, knowing that next year she would be there to see that I did. In India, so much economic activity depends on bartering and verbal commitments, honesty and honour are essential to the process.

I dozed, but awoke hungry and thirsty and tried to get the attention of a waiter moving in the shadows of the beach cafe behind me. Eventually, he brought a menu and I ordered a Limca (lemon or lime carbonated drink) and cup of chai tea.

Several minutes later, an older woman arrived with the drinks and set them down on a green painted wooden table next to my sun bed. As I reached for the bottle of Limca, I noticed a 2 ½ inch black plug of hashish sitting in the middle of the table. I picked it up to smell its pungent sweetness to confirm its identity. Two sun beds over; I caught the eye of a deeply tanned British male in his late twenties oiling his skin.

“Is this yours?” I asked and tossed it to him. He caught it and smelled it.

“No, it’s been there all morning, I think the Italian guy left it there to soften. He’s having lunch!” he said, in a thick cockney accent.

I noticed a saffron coloured sarong draped over the back of the sun bed and a pair of shorts left hanging up in the ribs of the umbrella

“Leave it, he’ll be back soon, I’m Derek.” he added as he tossed the plug back to me.

But I mishandled it and it dropped onto the table, breaking into several small pieces.

Flummoxed, I tried squeezing the small granules of soft hash back together again to form a single uniform plug. Eventually, I succeeded and replaced the plug where I found it. By now my fingers were sticky and reeked enough to incriminate me, so I bent over and wiped them in the sand. Tense, I slowly sipped my chai, letting its sweetness and fragrance calm me.

The chai soon took effect and feeling energetic, I got up and went towards the water for a cooling swim. Over to my left, a group of chest high rocks marked the end of the beach, among them, close to the water’s edge, I noticed a face formed in the rocks.

As I moved closer, I could see it was representation of Shiva’s head. A mala, large garland of gold marigolds had been draped over it, and there were some fragments of burnt incense at its base, indicating a recent puja. Shiva wore a couple of serpent heads around his neck. His trident, indicating the Trimurti was carved into the rock above him to the right and down by his side, to the left, was a turtle. I stood in awe. Shiva’s strong and symmetrical features, his serene expression, gave him an aura that exuded calmness and grace but also supreme power.

Shiva is one of the three principal deities of Hinduism. The Trimurti is the Divine and its three aspects are represented by Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the maintainer or preserver, and Shiva the destroyer or transformer. Shiva can also appear in four other manifestations. Usually, he is represented as a young ascetic immersed in deep meditation. Sometimes he is seen in his form of Nataraja, the Lord of the Cosmic Dance, dancing the Tandava over the demons of ignorance. Often he is depicted as Uma Maheshvara -- Murti, with his gentle consort Parvarti. Parvati, herself is a manifestation of the feminine form of divine energy, or Shakti, the mother goddess, and personification of the Cosmic energy by which the universe is created. In his most terrifying form, Shiva appears as Bhairava ‘the Terrible One’ when he wanders around the world naked, covered in ashes.

The sculpture looked old, somewhat softened by the sea and years of surf and tidal action. I wondered when it had been carved and by whom. Clearly, the natural rock forms had suggested the subject and inspired the sculptor; he simply had to refine them and add detail.

Fascinated, I ran to fetch my camera from my backpack. After taking several shots, I returned it and plunged into the water for a refreshing swim. The water was warm and very salty. As I eased into a leisurely crawl across the bay, I reflected on the similarities of the Hindu concept of Trimurti and the Christian concept of the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I was struck by how both religions saw three forces at play in their theory of cosmology, the creation of the Universe.

I swam for about ten minutes, enjoying the action of the surf lifting me up and down in the waves. But the tide was retreating and rips were forming. I had to keep my bearing on the rocks. At the same time, as I was lifted out of a wave trough, I kept an eagle eye on my sun bed and my bright yellow back pack containing my valuables. Tiring, I eventually flipped onto my back and let my body drift for a while in the waves.

In this almost meditative state, moving up and down, the separate sense of me faded. I merged with my surroundings becoming just the sensations my body was absorbing from the opposing forces of the Universe, the heat of the sun and the cooling of the wind on my skin, the Earth’s gravity tugging at the natural buoyancy of my body, and the push and pull of the moon on the water. All was in a state of balance.

Floating on the surface, all I had to do was breathe, and I didn’t need to do that consciously, it was being done for me. I was not in control and in the scheme of things, I was not very important. But perhaps Shiva was! I realized that Hinduism regarded all the forces in the Universe as interdependent and equally good. All is God, but in various manifestations. There is no evil or satanic force in the world or in man that opposes God; there are just cycles of creation, preservation and destruction. Hinduism sees there is unity to the world, not a duality. In the 1960s, during my brief experimentation with illuminating substances, I might have called such a thought ‘a profound revelation!’

I swam to shore, dried myself with a light weight Indian cotton towel, and flopped on my sun bed. Soon, I drifted into a light, but very restorative sleep.

Later, sensing figures moving around me, I sat up. The Italian and his girl friend had finally returned. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a couple of paddles for a game of beach tennis.

“Is this yours?” I asked, pointing to the plug of hash is on the table.

“No,” he replied. “It was there this morning when we got here!”

“Oh, I thought you might have left it there to soften.”

“No. Take it if you want it!”

“No! Thank you. I don’t do it. In any case, I’m flying back tomorrow. I wouldn’t want to be caught with it! ”

“No! That’s right!” With that, he flicked the plug off the table, it landed in the sand several yards away.

“Yeah. Big trouble,” his girl friend added as she picked up her paddle, took a practice swing, and headed down to the firmer sand at water’s edge.

As I watched them volleying the ball back and forth with surprising accuracy, it dawned on me that the plug had most likely been planted by corrupt local police. Uneasily, I turned around and peered into the dark recesses of the beach shack behind me. Suddenly, I became suspicious of all Indian males sitting in the shade, drinking beer.

Derek was in the water swimming, but his English mate on the far side of him had seen the Italian flick the plug away. The temptation must have been too much for him. After sitting up on his sun bed for a few minutes, staring in to the sand, he lifted his large tattooed frame up, adjusted his Oakley sunglasses and walked to the exact spot where the plug of hash landed. With surprising agility, a few sweeps of his foot located the plug; he picked it up with his toes, took in his hands, brushed it off, sniffed it and declared loudly.

“Cor! That’ll make a good smoke!”

I smiled and lay back to soak up more sun. Minutes elapsed and soon a sweet sickly blue smoke wafted over me. Derek’s mate was clearly intent on not getting caught with any hash left in his possession; he was going to smoke it all, then and there!

I slept well that night and arose early to do my final packing. After a hearty breakfast, I waited for the arrival of my taxi driver. At exactly 9.15 am., a blue Murati van pulled up outside my guest house and a tall good looking Goan called Sameer stepped out. He smiled and helped me load my packs in to the back. I bade a sad farewell to Anjuna.

On the outskirts of Anjuna, near Assagao, we passed the beautiful white Catholic Church of St. Michael’s. Built by the Portuguese in 1603, the Church has a fascinating history, including links to London by the employment of Goan seaman, called Lascars, by the East India Company during the late 1700s. Frequently, the seamen were cooks; apparently the officers had developed a taste for spicy Goan food.

Soon we were in open country; Sameer reached across the dashboard and placed a disc in his CD player. I noticed the small garland of flowers on his dash and small stub of incense. Occasionally, as he avoided a cow or narrowly passed another vehicle, he crossed himself. The sound of a long low OM started to fill the van; then a female voice began a slow quiet, rhythmic chant. I listened intently, the music had an ethereal quality, and it was deeply soothing. I reached into the dashboard, hoping to find the CD cover.

“It’s Shiva’s Chant, the Shree Guru Gita,” Sameer said quietly. “It’s in Sanskrit, very spiritual.”

“Shiva is teaching his wife Parvati about the Guru, the Brahman, or Supreme Being.”

I nodded. “Yes, It’s very beautiful.”

Settling into my seat, I gazed out of the window into the early morning haze and watched the dried rice fields and tall coconut palms glide by in colours and contrasts that were softened and muted. The landscape of Goa seemed such a gentle, spiritual place, so blessed in natural beauty; it captured part of my soul. Sadly, I knew I would be leaving a part of it behind there. For the rest of the journey, I continued listening to Kumuda softly intoning verses from the Shree Guru Gita, a devotional Bhajan of 182 verses.

This is verse 62:
Tad cjat tan nejati
Tad dure tut samipake,
Tad antar asya sarvasya
Tad u sarvasya bahyatah.

It moves, it doesn’t move,
It is far, it is near,
It is inside of this all,
It is outside of all.

Later, back in Vancouver’s Little India, I obtained a copy of the Shree Guru Gita CD. I also learned that during my absence, 27 homicides had occurred in Metro Vancouver. Many of them members of Indo -- Canadian gangs caught up in Vancouver’s drug trade.

The cycle of creation, preservation and destruction was at play in all its never ending forms and variations.

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