Gangai Konda Chola Puram, UNESCO World Heritage site in India
There was an air of pious anticipation, that one could almost hear the elephants trumpeting while carrying huge granite stones to build the temple, one could almost hear the hum of the 400 odd dancing damsels’ and their anklets tinkling, while dancing for Lord Shiva (as the lore tells), and one could almost envision the talented artisans carving out the beautifully sculpted figures. Gangai Konda Chola Puram is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, and called as the “Great Living Chola Temples”. It is called “living” because it is still very much an alive place of worship. Perhaps it is also called “great” because of the rich heritage of the Chola Dynasty still palpable in the atmosphere. But wait, I was in for a surprise as I was just yet entering the temple’s premises.
The temple was built in the 11th century AD in a record time of nine years by Rajendra Chola-1, son of Raja Raja Chola. He was a mighty warrior, who won over major kingdoms in India up to the Gangetic plains in the North, and South East Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and so on. He had come back to Tamil Nadu State in India, and built a city as his ruling capital, and named it Gangai-Konda-Chola-Puram, meaning the capital of the King who won over the rulers of the Ganges.
The Welcoming Nandi Sculpture
The Welcoming Nandi Statue
The first thing anyone would notice in this compound is the huge 11 feet tall kneeling Nandi (bull) statue, Lord Shiva’s stoic vehicle. This is so similar to the Sphinx in front of the pyramid in Egypt. It is resplendent and majestic in itself, and one can gaze for more than a few minutes and walk all around it admiringly. The strength, virility, and controlled power in Nandi was tangible in the statue. This is one of the 12 monoliths of Nandis in India, carved out from a single granite stone.
The World Famous Dancing Nataraja
The World Famous Dancing Nataraja Statue
As I walked beyond the Nandi, there was a flight of stone steps leading up to the sanctum where Lord Shiva’s idol rested. The entrance was flanked by the dancing Nataraja sculptures, which was a trademark of the Chola architecture. The Chola dynasty was known for encouraging art, culture, dancing, creativity in the form of sculpting, painting, poetry, literature, scholarly debate as a way of expression and so on.
The dancing Nataraja sculpture which is world famous, with a presence even at CERN, Switzerland, originated during the Chola period.
Walking past this ancient relic, I wondered if the foot of the statue held any geomagnetic effects as the lore claimed.
Entry into Lord Shiva’s Abode
The Long Walk – Entry into Lord Shiva’s Abode
The weather was very pleasant, not too sunny, just the right dose of sun for a summery South Indian morning. The entry into the doors of the temple gave me a tiny shiver. There was a man sitting just near the entrance giving out oil lamps for those who wanted it. There were some who walked in without taking his lamps. My attention drifted, searching for the idol. All I could see was a very long corridor, with the hope that there was the idol at the end of it. It was slightly darker inside. I wondered, why the King, Rajendra Chola, who built the temple, had to make the corridor so long? Slowly my son and I started walking onward. There was an opening in the left and right side somewhere ahead of us. But we could already feel a cool breeze from a draft somewhere nearby. We continued to walk. The gentle breeze was soothing. It was perhaps whispering secrets about the beauty of the art and richness of the culture of the Chola Dynasty. I looked around to observe the walls, trying to grasp all that I could from this one long walk. I also realized my mind was numbing me to stop my wandering focus.
We had made this trip to the temple, because we happened to be in the vicinity, and did not want to miss out checking a UNESCO World Heritage site. That was all. But here I was trying to squint my eyes trying to figure out what the idol of Lord Shiva looked like. Slowly I felt my eyes drifting close. I opened them, immediately alerted. I was walking after all. I could not close my eyes.
This was not like the regular temples. There was a special uniqueness here. We both could sense that.I wondered if Lord Shiva knew all the devotees entering this temple.
During all this train of thoughts, I felt the gentle chide of the breeze, nudging me to focus on the life essence of the Universe.
The idol was consecrated, I realized. The breeze was telling me that.
The holy process of PranaPrathishta or consecrating a stone idol, which is an image of god, is done to infuse the divinity into the idol, the temple and the neighborhood too if the energies can be strong enough. So how is it done? In recent history, rituals, hymns, and mantras are used for the process thereby signaling the completion of consecration. However, in ancient times, the sages Agastya and Patanjali were known to perform PranaPrathishta by infusing life force or life energy into the idol. It was a very active and transformative process. They wanted to make sure that all of living habitation across the world should have an environment of holy life energy. Thus this also accounts for numerous temples across India.
Is there a modern day scientific explanation validating the process of PranaPrathishta, you may ask.
Fellow to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, Professor Emeritus William A. Tiller, of Stanford University’s Department of Materials Science, spent more than three decades to validate this.
William A. Tiller says, “For the past 35 to 40 years, in parallel with my traditional science research and teaching at Stanford University, I have been seriously investigating the effects of human intention on both the properties of materials (inorganic and organic; non-living and living) and on what we call physical reality. From this research, I and my colleagues have discovered that it is possible to make a significant change in the properties of a material substance by consciously holding a clear intention to do so.”
More info here.
Our walk in the corridor, from the door leading to Lord Shiva’s abode, was almost ending. We were standing in front of the idol now. I looked at my son. He was silent for a change. His mind was not jumping into all sorts of science and math and mythology talk, which was a relief for me. I was enjoying these few moments of silence too. He had already commented about the similarities and differences between the trident of Shiva and Poseidon, as we were entering the temple.
After what seemed like a long lapse in time, in front of the idol, we looked at each other and then silently walked out.
#WorldMom Purnima from India with her son
The lawn around the temple grounds was well maintained, and we sat down and relaxed for a bit. There were a lot of sculptures all around, and some smaller temples for minor deities. We were in no hurry to check them all out.
“What just happened in there?” asked my son.
“It is a holy place. You felt the effects.” I replied.
“But what really is that, which we felt?” he asked again.
“You tell me,” I said.
“It was peaceful,” he said.
“So it was,” I replied.
“And something more, which cannot be explained,” he continued.
Transformation of man
I felt obliged to explain to him the holy process of pranaprathishta of an idol by pure intent and will, by the holy seers of the ancient.
“If they could transform a mere stone to god, they could do it to living things too, who are alive and receptive, and holy in thought and action,” he concluded.
“Yes, perhaps they could,” I smiled.
Bidding Goodbye to Gangai Konda Chola Puram
As our visit was coming to an end, I couldn’t help thinking that in today’s times, we are gifted with Pranahuti, or Yogic transmission in the Heartfulness Meditation system. The Heartfulness trainers are trained to impart this energy to the seeker.
In the words of the modern-day saint, Ram Chandra, “Transmission is the utilization of Divine Force for the transformation of man.” By such a transformation man is divinized, he says.
Kamlesh Patel, the global guide of Heartfulness says, “The best way to understand transmission remains to experience it practically… For many people, the experience of receiving transmission is so convincing that no further proof or understanding is necessary. I invite you to experiment and experience it for yourself.”
Extending the possibilities of the consecration of an idol through pranaprathishta to the transformation of man to make him divinized through pranahuti, is a giant leap of evolution in the history of mankind.
The beautiful thing about our planet’s rich past is that it has led us to the evolution of the present.
Tell me a little bit of spiritual revelations you have had, from your culture.
Photo Credit: The Author
I love being a mother and I’m forever grateful for my children. It has not always been so smooth through pregnancy, childbirth, and nurturing but I’m constantly learning, praying and evolving as I navigate through this journey of motherhood. We have been blessed with two gorgeous boys who are to me everything that I could have asked or wished for. They are sweet in their own right and sometimes can be thorns in each other’s flesh (sibling rivalry). I don’t dare say I know much about that as I am an only child so did not have to fight over toys with any sibling. Nonetheless I get to watch the love and bond that both boys share which is beyond every little fight that exist between the two.
Raising boys has its own challenges but I guess the same can be said about girls too (any help from mums with girls?) This should be another topic for discussion sometime later. Often times I get friends asking me how I manage with two boys? I don’t always have an answer but rather say to them; do I need a formula to manage boys? I believe every child is an individual with unique strengths that need to be nurtured by parents and not go by society’s norms to raising boys or girls in a certain way. Every child is created different and no two children are the same even twins. I am not a perfect parent but I pray and strive to be the best mother to our children.
This topic of motherhood and experiences came up during a discussion with a group of mum friends at one of the children’s parties we had attended. As usual we sat around and chatted over finger foods and tried to catch up on what we had been up to. A mum who was still nursing her then 4-month old baby told us about her birthing experience since she was a first time mum and wanted to hear from some of us who had been there before. You sometimes feel you have a lot of experience after a second or a third child and can give the most advice to new mums. This was her question to us: ‘so how was it like during the birth of your first child? Were you so nervous or scared? My answer to her was simple; I was just SCARED! (more…)
My oldest child just started middle school, which in the United States generally means sixth through eighth grade, or the years between elementary school and high school. Middle school has a tough reputation. It’s a time of huge change in every way possible. Kids go from being in one classroom pretty much all day to moving from class to class and managing multiple teachers’ expectations. They are also surrounded by many new faces from several different elementary schools that are blending together for the first time. Students are in every different phase of personal, physical, and emotional development. It’s the wild west of adolescence.
There’s lots to absorb and get used to, and the first week for my son encompassed a little bit of all of it – the good, the bad, the ugly. At one point he said to me, “No matter what you do, middle school happens to you .”
In the process of watching and listening to my son’s experiences, it’s hard not to go back to those days in my head. Each up and down that he experiences reminds me of something from my past. He will even ask sometimes if a particular situation ever happened to me, and of course, I always have a story to share. And as we swap stories, those old feelings come roaring back to the surface.
As parents, we want to spare our children the harsh moments we experienced and exalt them into the glorious ones, but life doesn’t work that way.
One evening, I was attempting to encourage my son to try getting to know his new classmates even if it feels awkward, and I asked my husband for backup. I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. My husband was talking about when he went to college. It was a huge school in a new city, and he didn’t know anyone. He decided to go to a freshmen welcome party at a different dorm. Looking around, he noticed a guy wearing a concert t-shirt for a band he also liked. My husband decided to go up to the guy and comment on the shirt to start a conversation. The two got to talking, and they decided to hang out. T-shirt guy took my husband to his dorm to meet some friends. One of those friends was me. We became pals, a year later we started dating, and the rest is history. We went to a huge school, lived nowhere near each other, and studied completely different things. Looking back, if my husband hadn’t created an opportunity over a t-shirt, we easily could have never met.
I like to think that this talk gave my son some perspective. It sure gave me some. As much as I don’t like seeing my kids uncomfortable or struggling, it’s so central to growing up. Learning to be comfortable in your own skin through trial and error is essential. It’s not just that middle school happens to you. Life happens to you, and it’s up to each us to face it on our own two feet.
I am glad to say middle school isn’t all bad, and my son is opening up a little more all the time. In fact, by sharing about himself, he learned that he had common ground with someone he had previously had difficulties with. I don’t believe that things will be rosy all the time or that every new face will become a friend, but at least one can always start again. It just takes walking up to someone and saying “hello.”
How do your children cope with new places and people? Has a simple “hello” ever changed your life?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. of the United States. Photo credit: University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
In 2013, Kathryn Pisco and her husband Mike left their corporate jobs and decided to take a trip of a lifetime in an attempt to unearth and discover the world. Over the next 250 days, the pair traveled to over 20 countries and volunteered at 5 different volunteer projects.
It was during their volunteer experiences that they learned the ins and outs of volunteering abroad. Although their time volunteering was meaningful, they were surprised to see how broken the system was.
A lot of projects charged tons of money for volunteers, were not exactly beneficial to the host community, and were not sustainable. The couple returned home and realized that they had to share their knowledge and experience of what they learned.
In 2014, they launched their social enterprise Unearth the World, an international volunteer organization that strives to improve the international volunteering industry by promoting cross-cultural learning, fostering reciprocal partnerships and elevating social consciousness through responsible international programs.
Today they work with 6 non-profit partners in Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala and Zambia which they have personally visited to ensure that each volunteer experience benefits the local community and provides sustainable change. Since they founded Unearth the World, 200 people have already dedicated 3,500+ hours of service over the past two years in collaboration with their six international nonprofit partners.
Teaching in Peru with Unearth the World
I first met Kathryn at the Women in Travel Summit in April and instantly connected. She is a mom like me and has a passion for sustainable travel and a zest for life. I knew I wanted to feature Unearth the World on my blog so I set up a phone interview to learn more. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
Me: What did you and your husband do for work in Chicago before setting off on your epic travel adventure? Had you ever traveled before? How did you pick your countries and volunteer projects?
Kathryn: Mike and I were both in sales for medical companies prior to traveling the world. While we had done quite a bit of personal travel in the past, it was more traditional tourism. We would maximize our allotted vacation time each year but that was the extent of our travel. Prior to our professional careers, I did a traditional study abroad program in Paris and Mike spent a summer living/volunteering in Nicaragua. Mike’s Nicaragua experience inspired us to volunteer on our epic adventure.
When choosing where to travel, we prioritized regions that were far away and – therefore – challenging to get to on a typical 7 – 10 day vacation. We also sought out countries that were relatively secure and affordable. Once we had outlined our 20-country itinerary we tried to spread our volunteer projects evenly throughout the trip. Our idea was to have a few weeks of personal travel and then a few weeks of volunteering. It ended up working out quite well!
We did a lot of research on where we should volunteer but found it really challenging to understand what organizations were legit based upon online research alone.
Me: Tell me a little bit more about the five different volunteer projects you did. What did you learn about the world of international volunteering?
Kathryn: We taught English in Kathmandu, Nepal, worked at Children’s Homes in Chiang Mai, Thailand and Phnom Penh Cambodia, taught at a school in Ofaakor, Ghana and built homes in Mwandi, Zambia. Through these experiences we learned how important it is to ensure that you have the proper skills to engage in each project. I have adopted the belief that if you are not qualified to do something in your hometown – why would you be qualified to do it abroad?
We realized that so many of our projects were well-intentioned but not truly as helpful as they could have been. There was such a disconnect between the true needs of the community and the projects that were designed to appeal to volunteers. We heard horror stories about schools that were built and torn down each year with the sole purpose of attracting and making money off of international volunteers. We also experienced some great things! In Zambia for instance, the organization is 100% locally run and the entire community is engaged in the mission. Mike and I worked alongside local people and learned from them every step of the way. Finally, we saw how incredible cross-cultural exchange can be for both volunteers and local communities. We built authentic and lasting relationships at many of our projects and are still in touch with people from all around the world.
Me: How did traveling and in particular volunteering abroad change you?
Kathryn: In so many ways! I entered the trip thinking that – as a 30 year old woman – my values, personality and worldview were pretty set. On the trip I learned how to thrive outside of my comfort zone. I became a better communicator, leader, and person. I also realized that I have so much to learn from people of different cultures.
Me: Why did you decide to launch Unearth the World?
Kathryn: As I mentioned earlier, our five volunteer projects varied greatly in intentionality and impact and illustrated the pros and cons of volunteering abroad. We learned that there are many problems in the current multi-billion dollar volunteer travel space: a lack of financial transparency, an absence of meaningful volunteer training, and a shortage of community driven projects. So, we returned from our trip inspired to create our own social venture – Unearth the World – that strives to improve the volunteer travel industry by promoting cross-cultural learning, fostering reciprocal partnerships and elevating social consciousness through responsible volunteer exchange programs. We founded Unearth the World to make volunteer travel more transparent, accessible and positively impactful.
Me: Where did you come up with the name?
Kathryn: Unearth the World was actually the name of our travel blog during our nine month trip. We thought it really encompassed what we were trying to accomplish on our journey. We sought to unearth – or discover – the world around us in a meaningful way. We decided to give our business the same name because we believe that international service and cross-cultural exchange is a great way to understand the world around us.
Me: What makes you different from other volunteer organizations?
Kathryn: We saw that the industry lacked financial transparency and affordability with many projects costing several thousand dollars for just one week. We also saw a lack of community driven projects. Instead, we saw many volunteer opportunities that were created with the purpose of bringing in tourists rather than actually addressing a true need in the community. Additionally, we saw that many of the volunteer sending organizations fail to train and educate their travelers before and after their trip leading to uninformed and unqualified volunteers. These problems in the industry saddened us greatly. UTW’s innovative model addresses the problems in the volunteer travel market in three ways: transparency, reciprocity and volunteer preparation.
Me: What has been the most powerful experience you have experienced with Unearth the World?
Kathryn: That is a tough question. I am always impressed by the transformative effects of our programs.
I have seen the biggest impacts on people who have not had previous international experiences. For instance, we recently had a student from Cornell University join a group trip to Nicaragua. He had never been out of the country before. His experience volunteering in Nicaragua sparked something in him. He immediately booked a second trip – this time to Zambia – to continue to engage with the world. Upon returning to school, he is considering shifting his major to something more focused on social impact and he has begun to volunteer in his local community.
Another great story is from one of our Advisory Board members – Amy. She took her two daughters to Nicaragua as a way of exposing them to different cultures. A memorable moment from their program was when one of her daughters turned to her and said “Mommy, I want to do really well in school so I can continue to travel and learn about the world.”. Amy was so inspired that she joined our board.
Me: What kind of advice can you give someone who wants to try volunteering abroad?
Do your research and ask tons of questions. Make sure that you have a true understanding of the impact on the community and planet that your trip is having.
To learn more about volunteering with Unearth the World, please visit their projects page to learn more about our opportunities.
Have you ever volunteered abroad?
This has been an original post by Nicole Melancon of Thirdeyemom in the USA. Additional posts by Nicole on World Moms Network.
From September 21st-23rd, 2017 World Moms Network will be at the International Travel Bloggers Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship using social media to engage more students and people to study abroad! Follow the Summit at hashtag, #studyabroadbecause.
What are you supposed to do when you can tell that the school your kids are in isn’t exactly what you’d like a school to be like? Not everyone has the luxury of just moving kids from school to school just because they don’t like it. I am thankful that our constant nomadic lifestyle let’s me make drastic decisions like taking the kids out of school and doing a year of homeschooling before moving on to the next country. The road of decisions getting here wasn’t exactly easy though.
Basically, we’ve taken the kids out of school and I’ve given up my free time so I can homeschool them as best I can. Everyone gets up later now and I admit it take lots of patience to get them interested in anything but I’m trying and I hope the decision was a good one. Whenever I think of the teachers notebook slapping my son, it becomes completely worth it
For about a year I managed to get up before 6 am to wrangle my kids out of bed, into uniforms and every day was tougher than the next. It was hard for me to hear the little one cry every day about not wanting to go and how much she hated it. The older one put up with the daily routine but grew to also hate it. We all ended up hating it.
I obviously put up with it because well, school life is like that right? You get up unwillingly and go to school and go on with your life. But something just wasn’t clicking.
When we were in Bali they loved their school. The little one was allowed to go in pyjamas with the uniform in her bag and the teacher would dress her nicely and even braid her hair into “elsa” braids. My son has always been rambunctious but not once did they notebook slap him across the head there.
The year they spent in the Cambridge style school here in Colombo could have easily been a torture for them and I was telling them to suck it up because I needed my space.
Insert the mom guilt.
Those five free hours in the morning were mine, all mine and no one else’s! But things just kept getting worse. My daughter was constantly picked on by a little boy, every single day and the teacher took months to finally intervene. She was miserable and her only friends would switch to Sinhalese at any time, leaving her out of conversations.
The first day I took the kids to that school, it had me wondering; a first grade teacher was yelling at the top of her lungs about rules while the kids sat as still as possible in their seats in a room way too hot for comfort. I sort of brushed if off because it was the end of the school year, but later I feel bad that my kids had to put up with these teachers for a whole year.
I can’t tell you if the teachers are bad or just have had too much, they were nice sometimes and horrible other times. My son got notebook slapped quite a few times because he was tired of writing. My daughter was told to put her head down if she didn’t want to work. She wasn’t given other choices, like coloring or puzzle building. She was four.
Are all “academic style” schools like this now?
Forcing four year olds to write and read by the time they are five?
So, I took them out of school completely. I sent an email to the school which they never answered back, not even with a “bye bye it was nice to have you here”, nothing. Good Riddance, I say.
We are Expat Homeschoolers once again.
My son has come to hate the art of writing but he loves making up stories, my daughter says “no pencils allowed” everyday and I have to figure out other things to do with her. She will trace letters but won’t let me tell them what they are. She still can’t count to ten properly but you know what? I doesn’t matter, she will learn eventually. I have a feeling one year in that school has left a bit of a mark that now I have to erase.
I’ve lost those five free hours that I used to have but at least my kids aren’t being forced to spend their day in a hot uncomfortable room being picked on for being different and made to work incessantly with a fear of notebook slaps!
How do you feel about your kids’ school? Do you ever just want to take them out and do the schooling yourself? I know I have the luxury of doing something like that, and I am thankful to be able to.