The morning of the ninth day was the preparation to parade Shiva Nataraja and his consort, Shivakamasundari, in the streets. We were up at 2am to be at the temple within an hour. Everyone was in their finest dress. We made it to the temple and were able to squeeze in to the corridor of the Inner Sanctum only by the grace of Vasu, our dikshitar’s younger brother and our host. He instructed us to stand near a particular doorway and once we got a view of Shiva Nataraja leaving his resting place in the Inner Sanctum, we were to quickly move into the 1,000 Pillared Hall and find a viewing place for the parade and procession. The mass of people who were gathering did not stop, devotees continued to push and cajole their way through the doorway to get as close as possible. It was hot, sweaty, cramped, and 3 o’clock in the morning. Still, I was running on adrenaline and the high of simply being in this crazy place with all of these devotees, 750,000 of them, who were nuts with love for Infinite Consciousness.
Finally, Nataraja emerged in all his finery. He had been dressed in his best clothing and malas and gold beads. When he appeared, everyone’s attention was immediately drawn to his abhaya hand, the one with palm open and face forward, the one that reassures the devotee to “have no fear,” the one dressed in a Michael Jacksonesque silver bejeweled glove. Really, you couldn’t miss that sight. When I saw that hand and felt the shakti wash over me, I melted into the moment. Then the excited crowd was pushing me into the next hall where the procession would circumambulate. Most of the people in our group found a particular corner near the musicians, we stood on a raised platform which delineated the corridors where Nataraja would pass through. The musicians stood in a circle playing big drums and little drums, tingsha bells and double horns, while one ecstatic dikshitar danced in the center, his movements so graceful and fluid it was clear that he was floating in ecstasy.
I was not so pleased with my vantage point, so I moved into the corridor itself and climbed up the outside of one of the pillars, yes, in my sari. All of the pillars were sculpted with rows and rows of human shapes, animals, and deities, and the pillars on the outermost rows had huge banana fronds tied to them in decoration. These fronds were much taller than mere mortals, the base was tied to the pillar and the top, pregnant with bunches of bananas and a large red banana-shaped tip, arced out over the corridors. A renewable resource that would biodegrade, the decorations were very festive and eco-friendly, oh yeah, and very phallic. I wrapped an arm around the base of my banana frond and stood a good metre above the crowds who would soon be moving through in the procession.
It was time, the circle of drummers and dancers led the way as Shiva Nataraja entered the 1,000 Pillared Hall. He was on a palanquin of 40 foot logs carried by too many dikshitars to count, and a few from our group were out in front. Throngs of people were moving before, behind and on all sides of Nataraja as he was paraded above the fray and around the entire hall so all could see. It was literally a current of humanity and if you did not move along swiftly, you might drown. From my spot up on the pillar, I could look down on the crowd and see everything, and then the big, sweaty men carrying the Master of the Universe came right up to where I was standing. It was a real operation to get Nataraja turned just so in order to move him out of the hall and into the courtyard. He was going to turn right in front of me. They marched Nataraja to my right and then everyone on my left had to part because they needed to back up around my corner. It was a precarious process, the logs and Shiva himself are very heavy. It rocked and swayed from its own weight and from the mass of people pushing and clamoring to get close. As Shiva backed around the corner, he came within an arm’s length of me at eye-level. The moment was filled with emotion, like an internal assessment of a lifetime of experience, time standing still in order for me to absorb the shakti of his abhaya hand, the hand with the damaru beating life into existence, and the hand with the fire dissolving that energy to create anew. In the massive throngs of people, there was a deep inner silence, and a tangible connection to consciousness itself.
My eyes were wide open, and the sight of Nataraja re-organized my consciousness to align with a deep knowing that is expansive and ever-present. I left that morning with a smile on my face that transcended words.