Climbing Chamundi Hill: 1001 Steps with a Storyteller and a Reluctant Pilgrim

Overview

At the top of the 1,001 steps up Chamundi Hill, deep in India, lies a twelfth-century temple that houses a golden statue of Chamundi, the Hindu goddess worshipped by the Maharajas. A popular tourist and pilgrimage site, Chamundi Hill honors this consort of Shiva who saved the citizens of the city of Mysore from the monstrous rule of their mythical demon-king.

In Climbing Chamundi Hill, Ariel Glucklich takes the reader on a mystical adventure to this enchanted place. A young ...

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Overview

At the top of the 1,001 steps up Chamundi Hill, deep in India, lies a twelfth-century temple that houses a golden statue of Chamundi, the Hindu goddess worshipped by the Maharajas. A popular tourist and pilgrimage site, Chamundi Hill honors this consort of Shiva who saved the citizens of the city of Mysore from the monstrous rule of their mythical demon-king.

In Climbing Chamundi Hill, Ariel Glucklich takes the reader on a mystical adventure to this enchanted place. A young American tourist goes out for a jog and rests at the base of some ancient stone steps to rub his aching feet. Seeing him take off his running shoes, a retired Indian librarian stops and asks him if he, too, is preparing to make the pilgrimage up Chamundi Hill — a pilgrimage often made in bare feet. The old Indian offers to tell him some stories to pass the time — mystical stories of gods and demons, holy men and courtesans, talking animals, and charming thieves. Thus begins an unexpected journey of spiritual enlightenment for narrator and reader alike.

Many of these rich, colorful stories — originally told in the ancient languages of India — are translated here into English for the first time. Read about a common weaver who dyes his skin blue and disguises himself as the god Vishnu to win the hand of a princess; and the self-sacrificeof King Karan, who each morning allows himself to be fried in a vat of cooking oil and eatenby a Tantric sorcerer in exchange for a bucket of gold the king distributes to his grateful, but unsuspecting subjects. There are funny stories such as the merchant's love-struck son, Udhay, who is swindled by a wily dancer, and of his father's elaborate scam to recapture his fortune with a monkey that spits out pieces of gold. Delight in the Sanskrit tutor's faithful wife, Upakosha — with coral lips and lotus-blue eyes — and her clever capture of the four royal ministers who try to blackmail her for sexual favors while her husband is away on a pilgrimage in the Himalayas.

The old Indian librarian relates these wonderful tales and, serving as guru, debates their spiritual meaning with his new American companion. From beginning to end, Climbing Chamundi Hill is an enchanting guidebook to the difficult path of spiritual liberation, and a philosophical window into the meaning of life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Religion scholar Glucklich (Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul) presents 30 ancient Hindu folktales, slotting them into the contrived story of an unnamed American biologist in South India. While walking barefoot near the sacred site of Chamundi Hill (simply because he wants to dry his wet sneakers), the narrator meets P.K. Shivaram, a retired librarian, who mistakes the biologist for a pilgrim and takes pity on his tender foreign feet. As they approach the 1,001 steps leading to a 12th-century Chamundi temple, the "tiny wrinkled man in brown polyester pants and worn out rubber thongs" distracts the biologist from his aching feet by telling him pilgrimage stories. The rather preachy riddles and fables, some of which are translated from Sanskrit for the first time, feature casts of kings, demons and talking animals and deliver pat moral lessons. The narrator and librarian dissect each tale on a metaphorical journey to Nirvana-a technique that feels irksomely artificial-and Glucklich dumbs down his American narrator (says the narrator to his guide: "First Shiva, now Vishnu-you know, I never could figure out your complicated polytheism"). In a few instances, Glucklich presents meaningful reflections: "No event in your life is a simple objective fact. It always means something to the memory-processing mind." Still, the flashes of substance feel isolated within a narrative that struggles to reach enlightenment. (Dec.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Located near Mysore, Chamundi Hill is one of the eight most sacred hills in South India, and its 1001 steps lead to a temple built in the 12th century. Glucklich (Hinduism, Georgetown Univ.; Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul) uses a fictional journey up the steps by an old Indian man and a young American biologist as a vehicle for presenting and explaining the 30 ancient Indian stories he has translated and assembled into this collection. The telling of the stories, and the questions the old man asks after each story, lead the young man toward spiritual enlightenment and an understanding of the nature of life. Glucklich's translations from Sanskrit are clear and accessible to readers not versed in Indian philosophies, and the intervening conversations serve to clarify the meaning of the tales. A shortcoming is that this study has no explanation of the origin and evolution of the stories and their context in Indian culture, which would have made this study more valuable as an academic source. Recommended for public library and academic collections emphasizing accessible reading on spiritual development.-Jerry Shuttle, East Tennessee State Univ. Lib., Johnson City Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060508944
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/25/2003
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Ariel Glucklich is a professor at Georgetown University. He is the author ofSacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul, Climbing Chamundi Hill, and The Strides of Vishnu.

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First Chapter

Climbing Chamundi Hill
1001 Steps with a Storyteller and a Reluctant Pilgrim

The Leper

Just to the west of this district was a land of luxurious mountain forests. The ruler of that paradise was an avid hunter who favored the more defenseless animals for his game.

One day he spotted a young buck grazing at the edge of a clearing and raised his weapon for a kill. Just as he was about to release the bowstring, a strange figure appeared between the animal and his arrow. The king lowered the bow and squinted, for what he saw astounded him. He could tell it was a man, possibly old, but so badly misshapen that it was hard to be sure. The man's skin was blotchy with large ulcerous spots, many of them oozing a yellowish-gray fluid, and large flakes were peeling off. His hair was wildly disheveled and dusty, his black teeth protruding through distorted lips. He was naked but for some filthy rags around his bony waist; his emaciated body was crooked like the branch of an old olive tree. As the king lowered his bow, the hideous creature prostrated itself in exaggerated humility.

"I am so sorry for interrupting your hunt, Your Majesty. Please forgive me ... "

But the king was too bewildered to mind. "Who are you?" he asked. "And what is the matter with you? Are you sick, or are you a demonic spirit? You have the appearance of a ghoul, but your eyes look sad as only human eyes can be."

The man approached, lowering himself further. "I am no demon, sir, but a pathetic mortal here to protect this innocent animal."

"So your interference with the royal hunt was not an accident?" boomed the king in a thunderous, majestic rage. "Don't you know that I am the king and lord of all these lands? Why is this animal worth losing your life for?"

"Your Majesty, I know the forest belongs to you." The man remained low at the king's feet. His voice, surprisingly, gave no evidence of fear. "But I am here to protect you too."

At this the king broke into laughter. "Protect me? What could you possibly mean by that?"

The man hesitated briefly before speaking. "This awful condition that you see, it's leprosy. I did not always look like this." He sank into a sad reverie for a few moments, then continued. "It's a moral disease. You don't just become a leper; it finds you if you commit a sin. With Your Majesty's indulgence, I shall tell you what happened."

The king nodded and dismounted, and the two men sat in the shade of a banyan tree. The leper kept a respectful distance from the king, but immediately began his story.

"Many years ago I owned a farm in the foothills of the magnificent Himalayan range, far to the north. My land bordered on meadows and forests in which a variety of fruit trees and brilliant flowers grew, where bees hummed as they produced nectarlike honey. Into that heavenly wilderness one day my favorite cow wandered, so I went looking for her. For days I searched, but there were too many canyons and ravines in which the dense thicket could hide an entire herd of cows. Despair robbed me of all sense of time and direction -- I soon became lost. I grew hungry and tired but kept looking for my precious cow. Then I saw a large tinduka tree rich with ripe fruits growing on the edge of a precipice overlooking a river with majestic waterfalls. It was a frightening place, but I climbed the tree like a fool, looking to reach the ripest fruit at the very end of the overhanging branches. Suddenly the branch to which I was clinging broke, and I fell down, screaming in terror.

"I plunged into the water, reaching the bottom instantly. Fortunately, I managed to push off. The current and fate then swept me onto dry land. I was shivering from the shock and the cold water, but felt lucky to find my body intact. After some time I began to look around for a way to get out, but the place was a trap. The river ran down the canyon, churning through noisy rapids, walled on both sides with sheer rock cliffs. There was no getting out. I saw a few tinduka fruits, which are too sweet by the time they fall from the tree to the ground. Still, I fed on these and drank from the river. In a matter of days -- it was obvious -- I would be dead. There was no point in yelling, for no traveler would likely come by that remote place. Despondent, I sank to the ground and stayed there, crying and eating the dwindling supply of fruit.

"On the fourth day of my imprisonment there -- I was already delirious with despair -- I heard a voice from the top of the cliff. 'Who are you down there? Are you man or animal?' I couldn't see the caller, but I cried back as loudly as I could, 'I'm a man. I fell down a few days ago while looking for my cow.'

"'Are you hurt?' the strange raspy voice asked kindly. I managed to focus my eyes on a form above the cliff just under the fruit tree. It was a large black ape with shiny eyes. I hesitated before answering, 'I'm not hurt, but I am in great distress. I fear that I shall die soon.'

"'Don't lose hope,' I heard him say, 'I'll get you out of there. But first let me bring you some nourishment.' The ape disappeared and shortly thereafter a shower of ripe fruit descended on me: bananas, mangoes, and berries. They landed all around, but I ate reluctantly because I was sick of fruit. Meanwhile, the ape disappeared again. He later told me that he went looking for a sack, which he filled with rocks, in order to practice carrying me up the cliff ...

Climbing Chamundi Hill
1001 Steps with a Storyteller and a Reluctant Pilgrim
. Copyright © by Ariel Glucklich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2004

    The Hindu art of story telling and stories.

    This book is a readable therefor well written peek into how stories and their discussion can reveal spiritual insights. The stories are simple enough but with questioning they open doors at different levels. Ariel Glucklich has done a masterful job.

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