~ Sri Vishwavaidyanatha Jyothirlingam ~
Excerpted from “Guru Dakshina ~ a Love Offering”
(a book by Sw. Vandana Jyothi, ©2011 Foundation for Cosmic Religion, serialized in full for free online at Mt. Shasta Magazine. Reviews available at Amazon.com)
So, the implausible tale behind an ancient Shiva lingam perched on a hillside in R&R, California runs like this as revealed by Guruji. If he said the name of the Ujjaini king, I don’t remember it and I have not researched, either, but the king’s son was very, very ill, deathly ill. The king promised Lord Shiva that if He cured the prince, he would commission a large lingam to be carved. The son lived.
But when the king went to present the new murti to the local temple where the Mahakaleshwar Jyothirlingam lived, they said, “No, King. We already have this great Shiva lingam. You please keep your new murti in your palace and offer proper worship there.” Apparently, that’s what happened for some centuries.
(This rest of this is from historical records, T.V., newspaper articles and moi.) Along comes William Randolph Hearst in the 1900s, he of wealthy American newspaper mogul fame. He sailed around the world collecting ancient treasures, paying handsomely for them. On one particular trip, he purchased an old monastery in Spain which had been constructed with hand-hewn blocks of stone. The monastery was dismantled stone by stone and a diagram of their placement and fit was made on paper. The stones were numbered to match. It was on this trip as well that Mr. Hearst purchased the palace lingam from whomever had custody of it at the time. It, too, was placed in the hold of the ship along with the stones from the monastery.
The ship eventually arrived in the port of San Francisco, California. But the harbormaster would not let it dock because it was overrun with rats. And then, while it was anchored out in the Bay, a fire broke out. It didn’t destroy the ship but it did burn the diagram of how to put the monastery stones back together. When the cargo was finally allowed to be off-loaded, the rectangular monastery stones, along with the lingam, were summarily dumped behind the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. They were tossed in a jumble, the lingam on its side mixed with and resting on the blocks of stone. He lay there like that for some years.
Then one day, a Park District gardener, a Westerner, was rummaging out back of the Tea Garden in a eucalyptus grove. He found the blocks of stone in a grassy area and stumbled upon the lingam. Nobody knows why or how, but he recognized It for what it was and brought over a forklift and moved the blocks around ’til he could get to the lingam. Whether deliberate or not, we’ll never know, but some of the stone blocks were arranged roughly in a circle and then he righted the lingam in the middle of them and kept a walkway all around it. Lord Shiva shook off His slumber and started vibrating.
Slowly, a few at first and then a steady stream of devotees from all over the world did pilgrimage to the fragrant eucalyptus grove and offered flowers, incense, milk, water and all the items of worship. And lit candles. The attention drew the local media and then the story went national. Yoga Journal wrote an (inaccurate) piece during the hullabaloo.
In the U.S., there is supposed to be a strict separation of church and state, clear down to the municipalities. Of course, if your church happens to be Christian, you get a little leeway. Anyway, Golden Gate Park District managers claimed the “thing” was just an old parking barrier like others you see along the coastal beaches and they wanted worship of it to stop, especially with fire.
Of course, a cursory glance comparing one to the other immediately reveals that contrary to that preposterous position, all the real parking barriers are literally beige-blond and obviously poured cement. This lingam is 4 feet tall, weighs 5,000 pounds, is hand-carved granite with flecks of other minerals and displays the evidence of painstaking sculpting, chip by chip. I did visit when it resided at Golden Gate Park across from the Rose Garden while I was managing the Temple in Oakland. Oh, my! Parking barrier, my ass! (Oops, there’s that naughty swami using American slang again! Quick! Get the tambula! [a mouth freshener offered during puja].) He hummed with energy and I made several trips over the Bay Bridge to visit Him and offer salutations.
Later, after the ashram had been in Mt. Shasta for year, a friend calls, also a dear devotee of Guruji’s who often stayed at his Uttarkashi ashram. She rings me up and says, “Hey, Vandana! Did you hear that lingam is for sale?”
“No! Really? After starting the lawsuit on the First Amendment, then getting possession, now that fellow doesn’t want It? You’re kidding!”
“No, he’ll sell it for $30,000.” I’m dumbfounded into silence now. Not because he wants to sell the lingam. But because of her suggestion.
“What the heck are you calling me for?! I don’t have $30,000!”
“Well, you never know! If it’s meant to be…” she says vaguely. I could almost see her wave her hand airily in circular flourishes. “Call him and make him an offer!”
Huh. God? What’s up with this? So I do call. And I introduce myself and tell a little about me and say, “But you know, I just don’t have $30,000. What would you accept?”
The custodian wants to qualify me first. He asks if anybody can come and be with the lingam or only Hindus? Of course, anybody. Gays, too? he asks. Of course. Some other minority I don’t remember. Yes. He’s pleased with the cosmic inclusion of all peoples. “Well, how much can you afford? If I can’t sell it soon, I’m thinking of breaking the thing into pieces and selling each piece for $5.” I gulp. My friend told me that he had already moved the lingam out of his garage and onto the median strip bordering the street. Dogs were lifting their legs and pissing on Him. Drunks were using Him for a backrest while they swizzled and snoozed.
Oh, Devi Saraswati! Come now and bless my reasoning power and tongue! This is not the first time I’ve negotiated a ransom for a murti. Once, Mother brought probably 15 black murtis, different deities all about 7-8″ high from India. The local temple devotees weren’t purchasing so she was going to let them go on consignment to a shop hours and hours drive away from Oakland. All of them. I didn’t have a good feeling about those murtis’ fate.
There was one particular murti of Muralidhar Krishna who looked just a wee bit forlorn. I don’t think He relished the thought of going so far away from the Temple atmosphere. The shopkeeper has a long drive, Mother is rushing to pack things and my eye keeps going over to that black Krishna on the bookshelf. He’s still not in the box. Oh, all right! I hear His plea and cave in.
“Ma! Ma!! How much you want for that Fellow over there?” I indicate Muralidhar.
“OK.” Some negotiator I am. Swooping up the little Being, I write out a check and become the ‘owner’ of Sri Krishna. He’s been within arm’s reach of me ever since, not even relegated to the altar.
I don’t for a minute think I’m going to be able to purchase Lord Shiva for fifty dollars, however. “I’ll call around to the devotees and see if I can raise $10,000. OK?”
“Yes, that will be OK,” says the man. “Get back to me as soon as possible.”
“I will, certainly.”
Two days later, without having called anybody, I give him a jingle back (I was trained by an Expert Shopper!) “I’m really sorry. I just can’t raise that much cash. Would you accept $3,000?”
“OK,” he agrees.
Two days later, again without having called anybody except a U-Haul truck rental outfit, I call him back. “Gosh, I’ve got the $3,000 in hand but I just found out it’ll cost me almost $1,500 to rent a forklift and truck and pay for gas and so on to get the lingam up to Mt. Shasta. Would you take $1,500 for it?”
“Oh, all right! Darn! But you have to come get it right now.”
“I’m on my way!” I assure him, grinning like the sElf Who organized this. Preparations are quickly made to rent a forklift in San Francisco and I already have a devotee lined up down there who agrees to operate it for me. I arrange to rent a ten foot U-Haul truck close to where the lingam is and do the 6-hour drive south to San Francisco in my Chevy Blazer with Sahadev, a dasa from the ashram in Mt. Shasta. He’ll drive the U-Haul back up north and I’ll follow in the SUV.
The atmosphere in San Francisco is just so much denser than in Mt. Shasta, I have to say. And it’s not because of a difference in physical elevation, either. We hold our noses and clean around the bottom of the lingam as best we can. The forklift shows up and promptly gets a flat tire. We call out the rental agency, they replace it and we get Shiva balanced on the forklift and up into the back of the U-Haul. The truck promptly sinks to the ground on its rear axle. Can’t hold the weight. Too concentrated at the rear of the vehicle.
We remove the lingam, exchange the ten foot truck for a fourteen foot truck and purchase some tie downs, too, knowing full well the sum of their rated capacity is only 25% of the need. We return to the scene. The day is getting long of tooth already. Let’s get this show on the road.
OM Gam Ganapatayae Namaha! Shiva gets inside the truck, it holds up just fine, but because the deck is so high, the forklift can only barely get the lingam inside the back door and cannot push it forward by even two inches. However, we test and the door will close. So we strap the Lord in, tying off lengths to both sides of the truck walls. What a joke! One good bump and His Highness will be “free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last!” as they say.
What to do? We’d already poured a full 16 oz. bottle of water on Him. A drop in the bucket. He’s huge! And rubbed some sandalwood paste on, too. Both men, the forklift driver and the ashramite, look at me.
Actually, they grinned at me. Swami? I had to laugh back. And rub my chin. I look around and spot some orange flowers. Plucking the one who begged the most sincerely, I return to the truck and Lord Shiva, Himself all trussed in orange tie-downs, perched on the edge of the doorway like it was some kind of short-meter diving platform. He’s looking at me, perfectly ready for whatever’s next.
I reverently place that one orange flower at the foot of His murti. “Lord Shiva,” I implore, “please stay put. Kizzie! We are taking You to Mt. Shasta. You’ll like it there. And You know we are basically going uphill all the way. You know that, right? Uphill? And I’ll be right behind You. So if You decide to escape, You will crush me like a tomato.” My prayer abruptly ends as I start laughing again, realizing the significance of what I had just said.
“Hey! That wouldn’t be so bad at all! Let’s go, Sahadev!” We give one last affectionate pat to Lord Shiva, our new treasure, then roll down and secure the door. Glad to be on our way, we wind our way carefully out of S.F., cross over to Interstate 5 and head back on up into the mountains. Arriving safely, we park the U-Haul on the street, give Lord Shiva a little air and water, then bed Him and ourselves down for the night. In the morning, I have to begin the search anew for a forklift available in Mt. Shasta. That part of the logistics had not been solved before we left for the Bay Area. I had been wracking my brain and calling all around before we left.
Comes the dawn. In the next block towards town from the ashram is a small warehousing facility for a soft drink company… Pepsi by name. Oh! The long and interconnected fingers of so-called fate! I’d drunk so much Diet Pepsi back in the day, maybe that outfit owes me! That was my thinking as I walk into the little office attached to the warehouse. The secretary is on the phone but you can sort of tell by her laughter that it must be a personal call. Or an overly familiar vendor. She points up to acknowledge my presence, hears out the caller, excuses herself and covers the mouthpiece.
“May I help you?” “Yes, I hope so. It’s an odd request, but I’ve walked by here before and have seen a forklift being used. I wondered if there would be any possibility of renting it or it and a driver, actually. We’re just up the street and have a large rock in that U-Haul to get out and put into our garage….”
The request is definitely odd. The woman’s eyes dart this way and that. What are you asking for, lady? And she has that caller waiting. I sense a “no” is imminent.
“Really, don’t let me interrupt your phone call,” I hasten to say. “I’ll just leave my phone number here and if, you know….”
She nods. Quickly, I jot it down, wave and leave her office. I spent the rest of the day searching elsewhere to locate a forklift and driver. No luck. And the meter is running on the U-Haul. And Lord Shiva is starting to drum His fingers on the metal walls of the truck. Come come, children!
Another dawn rises. Early, early in the morning, before we’re out of our respective beds, the phone rings. It’s a man’s voice with a bit of a brogue on the other end. “I’ma on my way uppa the street right now ta move yer rock. G’bye.” Click.
Instantly awake, I shout to Sahadev to rouse him and race downstairs. Since I slept in my clothes, I didn’t need to dress and it’s a darn good thing. I’m not hardly below, hair askew, before I see Pepsi Man on a forklift passing by the front room window and wheeling around to face the back of the U-Haul.
“Sahadev!” I shout again. “He’s here!”
“Yeah, yeah! I’ll be right there!”
I hear him respond and dash outside. We get the door rolled up. Pepsi Man’s eyes get big, seeing ‘the rock’ and he asks, “My God! How mucha does that thing weigh? This forklift is only rated for 5,000 pounds!”
“Oh, maybe 4,800 pounds,” I say. Our calculations had been estimates. “Can we try it? Your forklift is about the size of the one which got it in there.”
Pepsi Man is a very skilled forklift operator. We untie Lord Shiva’s bindings (which had stretched and were completely slack from who knows when) and soon Lord Shiva is balanced for His ride down the thirty foot driveway to the single car garage which had been prepared as a temple for Him. There was a 4′ x 6′ batik of Lord Ganesha hanging on a decorative rod on the back wall and other comfy accouterments
There also was a 3/8 inch rising lip between the driveway and the cement floor of the garage.
Pepsi Man could not, could not, utterly could not get the tires of his forklift over that lip in order to place the lingam inside the garage where we had planned. The tires left big black rubber marks behind for his efforts. Apologizing, he put Lord Shiva down as far into the garage as he could—another one of those two inch clearance to door closing things—and drove off back down to his warehouse.
What had taken us seven hours to accomplish in San Francisco took seven minutes to accomplish in Mt. Shasta. We returned the U-Haul truck to a local facility and headed back to the ashram, mission accomplished.
Public pujas every Monday evening commenced from that day forward. One time during the summer in Mt. Shasta, where it has been known to snow in July, it was unseasonably hot. Nobody has nor normally needs air conditioning there. But it was HOT! For days on end and it didn’t much cool off at night, either. Duh. Why it took us so long to figure this one out, I’ll never know, but finally we organized a copper vessel brigade and poured 108 kalashas of cool water onto Lord Shiva. Poof. Heat spell over.
Various T.V. News Anchors reported the story during 1994-95:
http://www.youtube.com/ enter “search” phrase “SwVandanaJyothi” (no period, no spaces)
Print Media also found the story of the mysterious lingam newsworthy:
The New York Times ran two articles:
Mt. Shasta’s “Directions” printed several, as well, including an interview with Sw. Vandana: