Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Well-Whisperer

Shubha Shree Panchami!  

Shree imbues everything with her essence. So we have Shree (a name for Lakshmi) prefixed to Sarasvati's Panchami. I see the coins (dakshina) as symbolic in many ways. This is a tiny little puja and those coins will help some of the expenses. It was a joy encountering  the goddess tucked into a little niche on a thoroughfare. She is pictured below.

The clarion call of the conch startles me and fills my soul with its breath. There are so many streams of thought all flowing in to me this morning. I am swimming in this pleasant chakratirtha, this divine swirl of energy. 
All around, Sarasvati is being welcomed in homes and pandals!

My thoughts turn to the spirit of the day – gurus and shishyas and those porous borders between them through which the essences of wisdom transfer themselves both ways. It’s a fine morning to revive  the Chakratirtha Travels website and fill it with new energy. People all around are writing and painting and singing with their pens and brushes and cameras, their voices and lutes and conches.

The best start to this venture of renewal would be a tribute to my guru Kim Raikes in whom all my gurus(those I draw from) – past and future, and all my shishyas(those who draw from me) , mingle in sacred synergy. Do not miss the well symbolism in that line. Nor my personal understanding that these roles are fluid and interchangeable. (Find out more about  Guru-Shishya - the traditional notion)

Some months ago I was at a low point in my life and yearning for inspiration. These lines flashed before me in a dream and jolted me into awareness of these truths.

"And the well shall travel with thee across the parched desert!"
On an impulse I posted it on Facebook. It resonated with many but one young friend Pranaadhika especially surprised and delighted me with her mention of Isaiah. 

Kim responded “Is this what you're looking for?” with the quote:

Isaiah 41:17 (NRSV) says, "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the God of Israel will not forsake them" Isaiah 41:18 (NRSV) speaks of God's opening "rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys..." and making "the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water."

And  my reactions poured spontaneously out into my journal. I now share the conversation with my fellow travelers. These thoughts are all of ours and the insights are for all of us.

We all have our metaphorical inner parched deserts shouting down those metaphorical wells. Wells don't often shout  back, they whisper their answers so softly they're sometimes hard to pick up. 

We  all have our bleak, lonely nights, our utterly isolating moments in the midst of sunshine and color all around us. These words told me that the soothing nectar of hope and comfort were only a hip-flask away, but we tended to search the sand dunes like the mother in the story who searched the world for her baby, who was perched safely all along  on her own hip, riding along on mommy's wanderings in bewildered wonder :)

Coming back to Kim, on hearing how I came by the words – in a lucid dream - she wrote a more meaningful story than I ever could have. Here then is what the well whispered to her!

"Ah, this is a sign, on several levels, that Gujarat and Rajasthan (yes those driest of dry places) are the destinations that will feed (water) us (our spirits)...

"When I opened my new book ("Steps to Water:  The Ancient Stepwells of India" and first saw the map of India, I saw the intense series of well locations that dot the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan.  I remembered what you said earlier when I said we needed to meet in Kerala next time; you said No, in Gujarat.  I wasn't sure why, but I understood when I looked at that map.

"'The well will indeed travel with us across the parched deserts' of our souls and lives, dearest.  So have confidence in that as you sort out the dry places of these current days.

Karan’s well drawing (there is an insightful and revealing conversation under the picture - in tune with this post and well worth reading) which was his gift to Kim as we three co-founded our venture in spring 2012, is deceptively simple, surprisingly powerful! It is shown here displayed on Kim's office wall in Maine Maritime Academy! Placed on the wall it appears to open a vista, to suck you away into its recesses. The unsuspecting, as they step into the room will be startled to see this portal :)

"I dipped into my book at the chapter on Patan first of all because the Queen's well (Rani Ki Vaav) was the one you first sent me, and besides Karan's (shown above) it was my introduction to the whole idea of step wells (and pond wells) in India.  I was completely blown away to discover that this well was buried in mud for 9 centuries and only in the last hundred years or so, dug out to see the light of day.

"All those exquisite carvings of Vishnu's incarnations, buried 900 years in the mud!

"So I've been thinking about mud and how our own exquisite personal inner carvings get buried in the muck of crises and mundane dramas.  Sooner or later, they get dug out by some break-through event or realization, to reveal what's been shaped inside us.  That's what I'm hoping you'll focus on now:  through all this garbage of leaks and  medical messes, you've been shaping these exquisite carvings inside you, and they WILL be released.

I have confidence in that!!!"

And when Kim has confidence, the World has to!

This post is dedicated first to my Guru and soul-mate Kim, co-founder of Chakratirtha Travels and our Spiritual Center, and then to each and every one of my readers. May the spirit of the giver-receiver (for they are one) awaken within each of you.

Clicked by Kim in spring 2010 in Kolkata

The mud symbolism is ever present and so powerful. And it is from this mud that we shape our Durgas and Kalis, all those ephermeral Gods that manifest and dissolve to manifest again in another form. Today’s Saraswatis were shaped from last year’s Durgas and Lakshmis (and Saraswatis too)

And Kim continues with her immense wisdom and poetic insight:

“Early in the Bible (Genesis 26:18) there's a passage which describes the return of Isaac to the lands which his father Abraham had once owned in Canaan. On the land were old wells which his father had once dug, and Isaac re-dug them, because they had been stopped up in the intervening years.

"I think there's old wells in all of us, wells that have become stopped up with time, or which (like the Queen's well in Patan which filled with mud from the flow of the Sarasvati river) have suffered some kind of interruption. They're our hidden resources!

"Finding and re-digging them taps incredible gifts...and brings them to light, like the exquisite carvings of the Queen's well. Think of it, the incarnations of Vishnu lying for 900 years in the mud, not brought to light till 1980! Thank goodness somebody took on this job!

"I'm sure there's similar treasures in us, gifted us by family deep in the past, or the chance word of a song, or the sight of a tree. Crappy mud from the muck of life keeps covering them up, so we have to keep digging!

"Luckily, I have the best diggers in the world to help me; you and Karan help me get down to these treasures every day! Your shovels are words and poems and drawings and photos and myths and remembrances, and every one of them helps bring to light hidden resources inside me. Thank you!"

To Kim: Thanks for your compliments to us "Diggitizers"
You inspire this. And draw nectar from our wells.

What better  can I say in response than “Guru Devo Bhava?”

To our reades, fans, supporters: You guessed right! This post and discussion are evolving into "bookhood" … and lots more.
Watch out for more posts related to these ventures!



  1. Reading and re-digging depths had never been this delightful. Feel the excitement as bookhood evolves . Also Kim interprets interruptions in such a beautiful thought provoking way

    1. Every comment enriches the messages of this post in its own unique way. Thank you for your insight on interruptions. And I know that shared feeling about evolving bookhood!

  2. "....black,lonely nights,our utterly isolating moments in the midst of sunshine and color all around us.."Beautifully profound lines.Loved it!

    1. Piyali I knew these lines would speak to you. Thank you for being there for me!

  3. Exquisite piece!!! Well-researched, contextualized and the meaning...a well travelling itself to this parched heart. Bless this writing, Chakra! Bless the life from which the water springs...

  4. From Kim:
    She asked me to post this for her as blogger is being obstructive!

    "Well the first thing that caught my attention when I read your post was the word whisper. We’ve been joking lately that we’ve so often been shouting down wells, waiting for an answer to be shouted back, that I was taken aback by the idea that the well might be whispering.
    Then I remembered your Christmas tradition of drawing words from your butter dish, and placing them in the toes of your loved ones’ stockings (not peeking) on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning you discovered that the word you’d placed in your mum’s stocking was “whisper.” And the word in my stocking was “listen.” So for the past couple months, I’ve been listening for the whispers coming from Rajam, and you, since so often she passes her wisdom through you.
    I especially love the translation you gave in your post, that a guru is a person you draw from, as from a well, and a shishya is a student, one who draws. I’ve been drawing from you both since the time when I first met Rajam, in Lakshmi’s temple, not far from our hotel in Kolkata. This is how I described that meeting in my journal, May 9, 2008:
    “We were a bit shy to actually enter the temple, a smallish open-air room divided down the middle with a rail to separate men and women, who were seated on large, colorful carpets or chairs; and our shyness was all the greater in our awe at the ornamental beauty of the altar, where life-sized figures of Vishnu and Lakshmi presided. Dressed in breath-taking attire—richly designed robes of metallic-threaded silk, gold, silver, lavender, rose—they seemed to shine with a light of their own; and seldom have I felt such an other-worldly presence.
    “Wanting to approach them, we still hesitated; but then a wonderful thing happened. Leon sort of began to mingle with the men, who welcomed him; and while I stayed behind, wondering if my plain western attire (no dress) would be acceptable to the beautifully costumed women, an elderly lady suddenly came toward me, took my hand, and drew me into their midst.
    “Dressed in a lovely sheer, gossamer-fine lavender saree, she seemed oddly familiar, small, bent, and smiling, with large ears and a wise face; and then, deeply moved, I realized she was Rajam, and that we had at last met.”
    Though she never spoke a word to me, she passed her wisdom to me through her welcoming hand, just as she’s whispered it ever since to me through you. This means that she, and you, have been my guru, my teacher, and I have been your shishya, your student. I especially love it that these roles can be inter-changeable, and that when her well begins to run dry, a teacher can draw from what she’s poured into her student, and replenish her resources once again.
    So this is my way of whispering my gratitude back to you both. My life changed completely after my meeting with you, there at Lakshmi’s feet in her temple. I’ve learned so much through the legends and insights and stories you’ve shared. I thank you, and Rajam, and Lakshmi herself, for being the well I can draw from when I need to nurture my spirit!"

    1. Kim, your comment as always, is post-worthy in its own right!

      "My life changed completely after my meeting with you, there at Lakshmi’s feet in her temple. I’ve learned so much through the legends and insights and stories you’ve shared."

      That is so wonderfully generous and affirming.

  5. The well of our inner gifts filling up with muck is so insightful.
    A great return with a great blog ! :)

    1. Welcome back dear Nipun! You got to the soul of this post with that one line. Stay around, we have more coming up.

  6. We all have our metaphorical inner parched deserts shouting down those metaphorical wells. Wells don't often shout back, they whisper their answers so softly they're sometimes hard to pick up...
    But we have to find these wells,our hidden resources,for not dying in the heat of loneliness and neglect...Beautiful way of telling us there's some strenght inside us we have to found,no matter how deeply buried they are ¡

    1. Thank you dear friend for bringing your love and energy to this space.
      "not dying in the heat of loneliness and neglect" - that is so stark and revealing. Thank you for being one of my well-springs at these parched and thirsty times!

  7. The metaphor of the well travelling with you through the desert is very important to me. No matter how parched you are through your life, there is a veritable well just bubbling beneath your very feet, if only you remember to dig!

    - Taksh.

    1. So happy to hear your voice here Taksh. The well is full of echoes now - whispers, poems, songs. May you always feel that well beneath you and tap into it whenever you need!

  8. The word that comes to my mind reading this is 'Contextuality'.
    And the way Kim puts it very relative to the context- "Ah, this is a sign, on several levels, that Gujarat and Rajasthan (yes those driest of dry places) are the destinations that will feed (water) us (our spirits)..."

    Reading this I am reminded of the old Harappan cities - Lothal and Dholavira. They have been recently excavated in the regions of Gujarat and it tells us as to how these regions weren't the driest of lands and did actually feed people. And fed them well because the civilization sustained for a long time.

    Moreover, it very profoundly talks about the interrelation between time, space and people. This relationship has been established through ages, yet it's very difficult to achieve in its true sense.


    1. Beautiful and revealing comment Amarinder. Thank you so much for your perspective and the information about excavations and for getting back to posting. Kim this comment will excite you and give us more ideas!

  9. First time to your blog, but strong words that resonate so well within.

    <3 Chakra

    1. Welcome to the blog and thank you so much Ruchira <3

    2. I love the word play on "well within"