On the 27th of February at 5am I arrived at the Deer Park Institute ( http://deerpark.in ), readying myself for the final seminar I would deliver before my (self-imposed) sabbatical. The Deer Park Institute was originally the monastery of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, a.k.a. Khyentse Norbu, who is best known for the films he has made (including The Cup and Travelers and Magicians). When the monastery had become too small for the number of monks who wished to live there Rinpoche had another built down in the valley, and the Deer Park Institute was born. I had a great visit there (despite the frigid weather), teaching to a diverse group of participants from India & abroad, and enjoying outings to ancient temples and to the monastery of Jetsun Tenzin Palmo (http://www.tenzinpalmo.com ).
After Mahashivaratri I proceeded to the city of Mandi for its annual Mahasivaratri Mela (mela = festival). Mandi, which sits at the confluence of the Beas River with another sizeable stream, is the capital of a small princely state whose ruler some centuries earlier elected to anoint the local version of Shiva, Baba Bhutanath, as his successor; ever since, the Rajas of Mandi have ruled as representatives of Shiva. Up to 225 images of local deities, each carried on a palanquin by stout-hearted young devotees, wend their way to the mela from the various villages in the district, congregating at the festival ground, where the public comes to behold them. Anyone who has a question that needs answering can offer a few rupees to a deity’s attendant, who will employ various oracular means to obtain an answer.
Mandi (which has been called “Chhota Kashi,” the “Small Benaras”), contains 81 ancient temples, including one dedicated to Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava and Mandarava. Shortly after reaching the area Padmasambhava identified Princess Mandarava as the incarnation of a dakini (celestial being), and the two of them promptly entered into intense penances together. This so annoyed her father (the local king) that he had Padmasambhava immolated, and Mandarava buried alive. When after a week Padmasambhava reappeared quite unscathed from the ashes, the raja felt horrified that he had so cruelly murdered his own daughter – until the Guru ordered him to dig her up. When he did he found her also still living, and afterwards the raja left the couple to their own devices. Mandarava’s cave can be found in Rewalsar, 26 km from Mandi; several km above Rewalsar is Padmasambhava’s cave, a fine place in which to meditate. Om Ah Hung!