While visiting the megalithic countryside around Stonehenge, myself and a friend first stopped in at Woodhenge. It was built on the same principle as Stonehenge but out of wood, now all decayed, but marked by modern concrete posts.
Again there was the feature of the north-east direction being left open for some purpose, either access or ceremonial. Traditionally, the north-east is the space in one’s home where the altar is placed. Any home constructed according to principles of Vastu Veda will have this space in the house free for a sacred purpose.
My friend and I had a lively discussion on the science of directions, sacred spaces, and Vedic ceremonial. The sun was shining down on us, we were getting hotter, and we noticed it was high time for our midday chanting of the Gayatri mantras. These are Sanskrit mantras chanted three times daily: at sunrise, noon, and sunset. These three times of day, when night becomes day; when morning becomes afternoon; and when day becomes night are known as sandhya. Because the Gayatri mantras are prayers they are known as vandanam. The word ‘three’ in Sanskrit is tri. Hence the thrice daily ritual performed by all brahmanas is known as tri-sandhya-vandanam.
The sandhya-vandanam is performed by first bathing, then sipping water, then mumuring the prayers while touching a sacred thread. This thread is given by the guru at the time of diksha or initiation and is worn from then on, draped from the left shoulder diagonally across the chest to the waist.
As I was leaving the temple that morning, by some curious but fortuitous coincidence, another friend who was off to India had left a set of sacred threads and some kusha grass, used as a permanently pure sitting mat.
Periodically, the sacred thread must be changed as it gets old or thin, and mine was due for such a change.
So with all these factors coming together, and being in a landscape where mankind has been performing rituals involving the sun for thousands of years, we both thought it would be a good idea to change threads and chant sandhya-vandanam in a traditional Vaishnava way and change threads at the same time.
And what better place to do it than on the bank of a river? As the Avon River was very close by we decided to find a good spot and take the plunge – quite literally!
The Avon is a great English river – but even on a hot day its very cold at first!
This kurcha ring, made of kusha grass, keeps the hand pure.
This silver gindhi is used for pouring the waters of the Avon into the palm, after asking the Ganges to also be present.
Chanting the Gayatri mantras at noon on a riverbank. Very purifying, and such a very English thing to do.
All pictures courtesy of Amaraprabhu Das. Lots more photos of ceremonies and India tours here