A Personal Sharing on living with a Shrine, Altar or Temple


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My dear friend Kumari has spent many years in India and tending to a shrine has been an integral part of her life. When I first created my shrine making kit she was an encouraging force and created a Shiva shrine out of the kit. You will find her creation on my gallery page. She also just published her first Book/Memoir called ‘Tracing the Moon’. You find the link below to her Facebook page.

Here is what she writes about her experience living and tending to a shrine….

My interest in shrines began when I packed up my life in London and travelled to India with a one-way ticket. In India the plethora of gods are found everywhere. Temples and worship are as much a part of daily life as going to the market to buy vegetables. Temples are part of the landscape, whether rural or urban. Shrines are everywhere – in the corner of every shop, on market stalls, on the dashboard of buses and the handlebars of rickshaws. In the bustling outrageous city of Calcutta, with poverty and beggars all around, the numerous shrines to Kali, the mother of all goddesses, began to beckon. India by then had seeped under my skin and the spiritual richness of this country held many possibilities.
I met a sadhu in his small Himalayan ashram. I was privy to the everyday event of worship. For a sadhu life is simple and everything is sacred. He tended to the temple and sat often by the fire. At dawn and dusk prayers were murmured, bells rung. I began to set up an altar in every place I stayed; a statue of the Buddha, a picture of Tara another of Shiva. My practise and sense of reverence deepened and temples, and the gods they housed, beckoned.
I built a temple in my house. My deity was Shiva – the supreme god that represents the formless. Shiva is worshiped in the form of a lingam, an oblong stone resting on a circular support known as a yoni or ardhagh.
The days effortlessly found a routine. Rising in the pre-dawn, the call to prayer from the mosque as my accompaniment. I sat before my shrine, a Shiva lingam purchased whilst on pilgrimage. A photo of Papaji, my Guru that now sits on the shrine in my bedroom. Turning mala beads slowly through my fingers, repeating mantra 108 times. Every morning and evening I attended to my temple – washing, sweeping, replacing the orange and yellow marigold flowers, refilling the oil lamp. Just after sundown I rang the bell, proclaiming and giving definition to silence, before singing my prayers to the gods.
Those days of living in India are long behind me, yet the practise of keeping sacred space in the form of a shrine has remained. My shrine in the living room consists of a large brass Ganesh, with a round belly and sense of serenity as he presides over the family space. Before him are two small lingams and an oil lamp. On the wall photos of Ramana Maharshi and Papaji are there to meet my gaze. And a wonderful 3D picture that moves from Shiva to Hanuman to Durga: one in all, all in one.
Next to Ganesh are the goddesses. A shining brass Tara with her arms gracefully outstretched as if effortlessly she holds it all, and a black stone goddess from south India, made from granite and carried back in my hand luggage. An elderly woman sadhu with dreadlocks to her knees kept this goddess on her own shrine for some days before I brought her home. Matarji lived on a stone bench and tended to a shrine that originated from a large termites nest. It was said a black cobra lived inside. This goddess is Mari-aman. She sits under the hood of a five-headed cobra and holds up one hand in blessing. She is Shakti -life force and creation.
Our true nature requires no ritual. Yet life is full of samsara, the endless quest for happiness in a world of changing phenomena. I find a quiet reflection as I place a flower, offer a prayer and turn my attention inwards. Often only a moment is needed to let the frenzy of life subside.
Ritual provides definition for the sacred. My shrines allow me with just a glance to remember what lies behind the surface of my life. As a mother home life is easily filled with the endless flow of requirements. Tossed from one day to the next in a parade of duties and tasks. Taking the time to light candles, burn incense and repeat a mantra, offers me a moment to follow my breath, take a deeper inhale, a longer exhale. Focus myself in the present moment and pause. Remain still. In the evening flames flicker and shed shadows across the goddess’ face. I find a subtle thread of the divine, and with it a quietening in my being, a softening a letting go of the day and its dramas. It brings me to the simple fact of this present moment.
The other shrine is in my bedroom. It is a healing shrine. After I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, I unwrapped the Shiva lingam I bought in Varanasi some three years earlier with the intention of building a temple in the garden. The temple had not yet come to form so I took the smooth stone lovingly, carefully placed it on the stone base. Nandi, carved from the granite of south India sits before the lingam. Behind is a painting of Hanuman, the monkey god who represents devotion and service. The table is full with numerous small lingams and statues. Hanuman, hands folded in prayer, Lakshmi and Shiva. River rocks from a valley in the Himalayas and crystals have found their way there too. Photos of my guru and one of Babaji the last time I saw him.
With the recovery from surgery and all the implications having a cancer diagnosis brings, this shrine gave great comfort. One morning, after a particularly difficult night a shaft of early sunlight fell across the shrine. Friends had recently brought me a silver Hanuman sitting on a rock from the revered river Ganga. In the sunlight Hanuman came alive. It was as if the heavens were pouring glory and for me in that deeply challenging time of my life, it was blessing.

Below is the link to Kumari’s website where you can order her Book ‘Tracing the Moon’ which will take you on a extraordinary journey through India where she shares her personal and deeply felt experiences.


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