In Kajuraho my new friend Kalidas said he'd take me out to see some out of the way old temples in the area, off the tourist trail. Little did I know just what I was in for!...
Without his guidance, I doubt I would have been able to work out how to get to these places easily (apart from not even knowing of their significance). To get to Ajaigar, we caught an early-morning bus, then a crowded jeep, then another bus, which couldn't quite make it up the last big hill so we had to walk the last 4o minutes or so in the hot dry heat.
The village of Ajaigar was interesting because of its small scale- simple houses in the middle of an area surrounded by light jungle, with a frenetic cluster of stalls and activity in the central market-place. That day and the next, we sat in the tin-shed shade of Kalidas' friend's rickety chai-shop, obviously the most popular one in town. Conversation was of course mostly in Hindi, but the chai -the best I'd had anywhere- was so good I didn't care. Despite the considerable surrounding heat, the rich creamy hot brew was incredibly refreshing. During these 9 days of Ram-Noomi, the festival of Rama, I had decided to fast in the day time (as many Indians do at this time), other than some fruit, and of course chai! It wasn't difficult most of the time, in the hot dry weather of summer beginning in the wilderness State of Madhyar Pradesh, one didn't feel like eating much til the sun went down anyway...
Just a few hours before dusk when it had begun to cool off but there was still light, we headed off up the mountainside behind the town, to see the ancient temples up there. After only about 40 mins we reached the first ruins, as we ambled up the winding dirt track through light forest. We passed through an old crumbling stone archway, turned a corner and what a strange sight! : There was a large figure of elephant-headed Ganesh carved into a great rock -apparently at least 4 or 5 hundred years old- and standing on it, with hooves straddling each side of his body, was a black goat, looking at us with that cheeky yet nonchalant goat-grin in its big eyes. Io Pan! Om Gam Ganapati Namah!
As we continued up through ramshackle ruins dispersed with light dry foliage and red earth, Kalidas pointed out various smaller carvings here and there in the rocks and boulders. Some of these were fantastic, especially one of Durga and a rather severe one of a skeletal scorpion-Goddess (forgotten the name) with various weapons and bones, apparently prayed to to avoid poisons, illness and death.
Regardless of (or perhaps even enhanced by?) their disrepair, these old carvings were so much more beautiful than the tacky brightly-painted concrete ones in most modern Hindu temples (although they too have their own strange charm).
The scant first ruins dropped away again, more traipsing up through dry woods until eventually, hot and sticky, we arrived at the top of the mountain. There were the ruins of three temple complexes there, all old and crumbling and quite beautiful:
After exploring these, I thought that was it; but Kalidas beckoned me on down the other side of the mountain, which was a lot steeper. Just a small way down, on a jutting precipice, was another old temple, and this one was obviously still in use -a couple of wiry old white-dreaded sadhus perched there nodding at our arrival.
This temple -mostly open but with a tiny covered shack for its caretakers- was awesome. Carved into the red-hued rocks along the edge of the precipice were large engraved figures of nine different forms of Durga - 'Noh-Durga' (9-Durga), hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years old.
It was interesting for me to see these now during the Ram Navaratri, as I had celebrated the Durga Navaratri at the other end of the year before. I said Durga mantras to the 9 forms, and gave my thanks to their skinnySadhu caretakers, who apparently lived a fairly harsh existence there, mostly on just what people brought them occasionally from the village.
(I asked but as with most temples in use they didn't want photographs taken)
On the way back down I chanted a mantra to Ram, the solar God-man of this nine-day period; then as dusk encroached I shifted to a Narshignha mantra -as S/He presides over the spaces inbetween.
Turning a corner back tthrough the first ruins, I suddenly saw a carving I hadn't noticed on the way up, of a lion-headed man ripping apart someone's torso with His claws -Narasimha! I prayed before the crumbling form, then held out the lion/ess-headed hilt of my new knife to it mid-mantra.
I had found this knife in a mudbrick 'Curiosities Shop' full of antiques in the old village of Kajuraho. Because it seemed thoroughly jammed in its scabbard and the owner wouldn't let me bring it back if I couldn't extract it, I demanded a discount.
Back at my friends' house afterwards, Kalidas' sculptor 'brother' (whose other -blood- brother, whom he didn't get on with, as it turned out owned the shop where I bought it!) helped me remove the knife. It was so wedged in that we had to cut open the side of the thin brass scabbard and peel it back, exposing a thick coating of red clay that had hardened around the blade. This had to be slowly chipped away, then the scabbard re-sealed. The whole process reminded me of the Arthurian 'sword in the stone' mythos -a grand way to receive my new athame!
Days later at Ajaigar I was holding its lion/ess-headed hilt to the mountainside carving of leonine Narasimha. I also held this golden lion up to the setting sun for consecration -I relate Narasimha to Hrumachis, Egyptian Lord of the Double Horizon (dusk and dawn -the spaces inbetween day and night)...
Back at the bottom of the mountain, above the bone-white spire of the old palace, a sliver of silver curved moon arose in the gradually-darkening sky. I drew the silver blade from its golden sheath and held its crescent up for consecration... Om Namoh Nrisinghaya Namah
It was still hot by the time we were ready to sleep, so we abandoned our sweaty rooms for the roof of the hotel. As we lay staring up at the wondrous night-sky, Kalidas remarked that this was perhaps better than any '5-Star Hotel'. I quipped that of course, for it was a millions-of-stars-hotel...
The next day was to bring further adventure, with somewhat more difficulty, and a Meeting with my Maker...