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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
buy my shirts?” She asked. “No, thank you, I don’t
make my lucky day, be my first customer, I give you good price.”
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.
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.
massage your feet, trim your nails. Give you nice pedicure.
” She said.
really. It’s OK. The salt water will fix them.”
She propped her chin up with her hand and glared at me.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
this yours?” I asked and tossed it to him. He caught it
and smelled it.
been there all morning, I think the Italian guy left it there
to soften. He’s having lunch!” he said, in a thick
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
yours?” I asked, pointing to the plug of hash is on the
he replied. “It was there this morning when we got here!”
“Oh, I thought
you might have left it there to soften.”
it if you want it!”
you. I don’t do it. In any case, I’m flying back
tomorrow. I wouldn’t want to be caught with it! ”
right!” With that, he flicked the plug off the table,
it landed in the sand several yards away.
trouble,” his girl friend added as she picked up her paddle,
took a practice swing, and headed down to the firmer sand at
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,
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.
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
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
Shiva’s Chant, the Shree Guru Gita,” Sameer said
quietly. “It’s in Sanskrit, very spiritual.”
teaching his wife Parvati about the Guru, the Brahman, or Supreme
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