The Mandala Temple

Fiction (from books)


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The Mandala Temple

Text Extract
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Luke, Chandrika, and Mohini, followed the rest of the group along the main path back to the building. After everyone had passed under the large palm trees, Chandrika turned to Luke pointed out the unusual white building up on the hill.
"Yes I noticed that first thing this morning", Luke nodded. "I could see it from my window".
Chandrika said quietly, almost in a whisper, "Do you want to take a quick look"?
Luke was intrigued now. "What’s there?" he said, taking her cue and also lowering his voice, but without knowing why.
Mohini stepped in front of Chandrika, and exclaimed in an excited whisper "You’ve already got the key haven’t you? I knew it".
Chandrika stood still, smiling, and from somewhere in the folds of her gown produced a key which she held close to her, so that Chandrika and Luke could see it, but it was hidden from the rest of the party who were now moving on, anyway.
The three of them waited until the rest of the group had moved on out of sight. They then quickly followed a different path away from the house in the other direction. It soon became a winding route through the trees and across a small bridge. For some time the building was out of sight, as they went along a narrow and rising footpath through semi-jungle, which eventually climbed steeply.
After they had been ascending for some time, the path finally emerged from the trees and undergrowth, opening out onto an overgrown circular lawn, partially surrounded by trees.
Small, bright yellow flowers, glowing in the sun, peppered the dark green long grasses. All around, huge bushes with exotic foliage receded into the surrounding density of green and shadows, studded with deep red and orange flowering heads.
It was as though they had emerged into a different world, fragrant with something very sweet and evocative, with the loud hum of insects and small brightly coloured birds that were being attracted to the surrounding plants. Luke heard some quiet droning and saw large dragonflies with brightly coloured bodies, and some with luminescent, multi-coloured filigree wings, darting about over the grass. Every now and then some of them would pass very close by, the low buzz of their wings briefly becoming audible again.
"It’s always a little paradise here", Chandrika breathed happily.
"I love it here", Mohini said, turning round like a dancer in the soft long grass, causing it to wave with her movements.
"They used to call it the Garden. People used to come here all the time. But they don’t any more".
Chandrika turned to Luke and spoke very quietly. "She means before her time. She sometimes thinks she senses things that happened long ago, too".
Mohini, who was still turning as though she was dancing in the grass, overheard what Chandrika said. She carried on moving, but more slowly. "It’s not just long ago…", she said dreamily. "You used to come here a lot with Inesh, didn’t you"?
A rabble of black bees suddenly appeared out of nowhere and meandered slowly across the tops of the grasses past Luke and Chandrika, their low buzzing seeming to make a solid musical harmony between themselves. They just as quickly faded again into the distance.
Chandrika smiled and looked at Luke. "She’s right", she said. "Some of us used to come here. With Inesh".
They approached the centre of the Old Lawn which was was elevated above the perimeter, and rising vertically up from it, shining in the bright sunlight, was an exotic stone building whose appearance was rather like some minor part of a larger extravagance that was perhaps now missing.
"Some people say it’s the true centre", Chandrika said, looking at the building. "It’s older than the house. It was here first". She drew in a large breath and smiled, closing her eyes. "Hmmm… you can always smell the sea from up here", she said quietly.
The bright white stone of the building somehow seemed to capture and reflect the blue light of the sea beyond. It was almost as if even at this distance the shimmering movements and sparkling of the waves were reflecting off the surface of the stone.
Luke contemplated the scene. The sea in the distance seemed engaged in a joyful play of light, the sparkles seeming to rejoice in some unseen world of eternal delight. And now, somehow the white walls of the temple connected with it, radiating the same.
Luke felt the warmth of the Sun on his face, as he studied the temple. He thought how much bigger and more substantial it appeared now at close quarters.
Visually, there was something odd about it though, geometrically. Two stories rose in regular polygons above the surrounding lawn, the upper storey smaller in diameter than the lower one. Luke could see the upper storey was probably seven sided. The lower polygon had more sides, which were difficult to count reliably. A small balcony ran around the outside of the upper storey, on top of the lower story.
The lower story contained elaborate arches with multiple curves and parts of circles at their edges, each arch with its own pair of vertical stone pillars. The seven walls of the upper storey contained similar but smaller arches, and these appeared to be glazed.
All around the bottom of the decorated, domed roof, above each corner of the upper heptagon, sat fierce looking, fabulous stone creatures, seemingly protecting the building, their fourteen bulging eyes staring in all directions. At the highest point of the dome, was what looked like an old lightning conductor projected skywards. A thin grey strip of metal traced from its base down the outline of the building and then disappeared into the ground.
"Its proper name is the Mandala Temple", Mohini said seriously. "Although some people just call it the summerhouse. Not many people bother to come up here now, though".
Chandrika added "The Mandala Temple is what it’s called in the archives in the house. You’ll see why". She led on towards the building, saying "We haven’t got long, though. Not if we want to catch breakfast…"
The three of them together crossed carefully through the long grasses and approached the building in silence, going through the pointed central arch, one at a time.
Inside was a beautiful white stone floor, and on it sat two huge concentric circles of stones, all around the perimeter. The outer circle was of large stones, like giant, elongated pebbles pointing upright. Each appeared to be sitting in a hollow depression in the stone floor. Luke counted twelve stones in the circle. Inside it ran another circle of many much smaller stones, also located in small holes in the floor.
There seemed to be a mismatch between the number of walls of the building and the number of large stones in the outer circle. Having counted the stones Luke reckoned there must be thirteen walls. There was nevertheless something beautiful about the arrangement of the stones within the walls, and it all seemed too elaborate and strange to be mere decoration.
They followed between the sleeping stones as they made their way towards a spiralling stairway, Chandrika leading. Once on the balcony Chandrika unlocked a door in one of the arches, and they entered the upper storey. They were immediately enveloped by its heat. Luke could smell incense of some kind.
"It can be a sun-trap in here", Chandrika whispered. Her voice seemed intensified and changed, in the hot, still, interior acoustic of the room.
Inside, beautiful coloured cushions were strewn on the floor, and all around the perimeter of the room were candles and lamps on individual stands, one in each of the seven corners. Between them, clear glass or crystal containers were filled with coloured water. Luke noticed again how the space smelt of a strange but beautiful incense, which seemed to grow stronger now.
He went over to the windows and looked out. The sea was all around in the distance, still sparkling joyously, and the Ekanta looked different from here. Beyond was a wide field covered in what appeared to be glass panels, dazzling in the sun, and to the side, facing the sea, was a large array of gracefully rotating wind generators.
He looked up to the domed ceiling and saw that all around the circumference where it sloped down to meet the walls, was a series of seven very large, magnificently deeply coloured circular patterns of hypnotic complexity. In the centre of them all, covering the dome to its highest point, was an eighth, larger than the others. It took Luke quite some time to visually absorb them all, even superficially.
"These are just… amazing", he whispered slowly, gazing up at them in admiration. "Amazingly beautiful". Something about them had immediately captivated him.
"We don’t really know the origins of them", Chandrika said. "We don’t really know the origins of the building even. Some of the colours have been restored, I think. That’s why they’re so bright. There are no details in the archives".
Luke continued gazing at them. "They look… they’re kind of… really... powerful, aren’t they? They’re certainly not just decoration are they"? he observed.
Chandrika was studying them also now. "Oh no", she said quietly. "They’re mandalas. The island was used by the original Order a long time before Dhananjay bought it. Mandalas are used in meditation… they usually represent the cosmos… or aspects of it. They’re supposed to have special powers for those who are ready to receive them. They’re like visual equivalents of mantras. We don’t know exactly what these ones represent. They don’t look like anything else we've ever come across".
"What's this one"?, Mohini asked, pointing up.
"No one knows what exactly what they are, Mo", Chandrika said. Mohini was not about let it pass. "Oh come on", she insisted, it must mean something".
It may not have been the most complicated of all the patterns, but it was one of the most vibrantly coloured and possibly the most beautiful and mesmerising of them all. Most of the patterning was flower-like, perhaps lotus flowers, with concentric rows like petals with beautiful flame-like, diamond-like and fractal-like shapes radiating explosively out from the centre.
"Yes… it’s beautiful", Chandrika said, staring at it. "You can almost taste the colours, can't you"? she breathed. "It’s like… they resonate with each other. Almost as if they’re changing as you look at it". She stood for a few more seconds, taking it in. "Yes… it’s amazing. It certainly has an energy".
Luke thought there was indeed something strangely energising about the building's proportions, about its seven sidedness, and now they had stopped speaking, he noticed there was something palpable, almost solid, about its silence. The very stillness in the room seemed to be like a vibrating energy.
He went over to one of the windows again, and looked out. Some way off, a striking, tall and rugged, rocky crag, rose to what appeared to be highest point on the island. There was dense green foliage and trees on the top. He walked over to the other window and looked again in the direction of the house.
It was a magnificently eccentric, gothic extravagance, as far away from the vernacular styles as could possibly be. From up here he could see how it rested in a shallow hollow, partly sheltered by a natural rise in the land at that end of the island, which hid it from the view of the mainland. Only the tall tower of the Solar with its glassy top, rose above the line of protection.
On one of the flat lawns on this side of the house a number of people were involved in some sort of physical activity. Luke observed them for a while and concluded it must be some kind of martial art. Chandrika saw him watching and came over.
One of the figures was sitting cross legged, perfectly still, facing the Mandala Temple, with his hands in his lap. Another participant seemed to be engaged in a mock attack on the sitting figure, running up behind him, brandishing something like a sword.
With both hands clasped, he brought the practise weapon down fast on one side of the sitting figure, who promptly leant to the opposite side, to avoid the simulated blow. This was repeated again and again, randomly changing from side to side, each time the sitting figure dodging with unerring precision to the opposite side of his attacker’s strikes.
Chandrika smiled. "That’s Amrit", she said. "The one sitting down. Early morning teaching. They always do that".
The next thing Luke saw was the sitting figure corkscrew up and round to face three attackers as they came from behind him, wielding long weapons that glinted in the sun. In a blink, all three of his would-be attackers were on the ground, and the now standing figure of Amrit was holding the three weapons somehow in one hand, above his head.
"He’s a master of The Art", Chandrika said. "Apparently he has exceptional abilities". She looked for a second longer, then turned and walked over to the door.
Mohini was now sitting cross-legged, and absolutely motionless on the cushion in the centre of the floor, with her eyes closed, and her hands in her lap. She let out a deep breath, and then slowly said "Wow".
"We’d better go if we’re going to catch breakfast", Chandrika said, almost as if she was breaking some kind of spell that the Mandala Temple was beginning to cast on them. "I’ve got to put the key back in the gallery upstairs", she said. "I’m on food duty for lunch this morning as well". She looked at Luke. "Tarak said he wants to meet with you".
"Okay, yes, fine", Luke replied.
Luke followed Mohini towards the door, and now again very aware of Chandrika’s presence, he just glanced at her. She responded involuntarily, and for a fleeting second it was as though she had been caught unaware. For the briefest of moments Luke saw something in her, something unnameable, something perhaps like the vulnerability he had seen in her before, the first evening they met.
For that brief moment he knew they were both aware of it. Luke said nothing, but knew with certainty that they had just communicated more in that moment than since Chandrika joined the group on the jetty earlier.
As they walked back across the lawn outside the Mandala Temple, Luke found himself wondering when and where he might get the opportunity to see Chandrika alone. Perhaps there might be a chance after lunch, he thought.
Walking back to the old house Chandrika and Mohini were holding hands, watching the large coloured birds that were making a commotion in the tree tops. A peacock cried from somewhere closer to the Ekanta. Mohini looked back and across to Luke. "You two can always go back and have another look after lunch if you want", she said.

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