By mid-morning, we had returned to the temple grounds for the culminating event of the festival, darshan. Shiva Nataraja was waiting in the Raja Sabha, and even though we arrived early for this ritual, there were many already assembled there. It was clear that it would be difficult to get up close to Nataraja without pushing. We gathered with the dikshitar families in front of the homa platform to progress as a group into the courtyard and then the King’s Hall, hopeful to get up close to Nataraja in all of his grandeur after the morning bath. We paraded through the crowds with our guides acting as bodyguards to keep us somewhat together and to get up close. The nearer we came to the hall, the more difficult it became. We made it to the doors, and even through them, but it was a total mosh pit. There were big people and little people, everyone sweating in the south Indian summer heat, I had to hold tight to my pallu or else my sari, one single, extremely long wrap of silk, could be pulled off even. The largest of the sweaty Indian men would laugh as they lurched from side to side, directing the flow of humanity, generating new waves of motion just to stir up the energy in the room. It was tight in there, and Indian children would sometimes cry when they got squished between bodies. At one point an elderly woman was next to me and we exchanged a look of resigned amusement, knowing that we could not move forward or back, and so we just settled into the space we were holding. Turns out, the elderly woman was Vasu’s mother and he was very worried for her being stuck in the crowd and perhaps a bit fragile. So within moments Vasu had navigated the thick crowd and plucked her out from the center into the safety of the sidelines. How he was able to move himself and her out of the crowd is still mind-boggling to me. I was stuck in the middle of bodies of all shapes and sizes, knowing I couldn’t go anywhere, doing my best to blend in to the current.
When the curtains were finally drawn and Nataraja was visible, wave upon wave of emotion passed over the crowd, people whooped and swooned. There was nothing else to do but soak it up, and hold on to my sari. Since I could not see very well at the middle of the mosh pit Raja Sabha surrounded by taller people, I settled again into the space I was occupying and just moved with the current for still longer. Darshan lasted quite a while it seemed, and then when the curtains were drawn, the crowd energy was palpably saddened. The dikshitars yelled to create a pathway down the center for the procession to move back through the courtyard to the Inner Sanctum. It was time for Nataraja to go home.
Miraculously the crowds parted down the center of the hall and I, along with some dikshitars’ families in front of me and my intrepid group behind, were pushed into the parting to lead the procession back to the Inner Sanctum. I held my pallu tight, kept my head low, and followed the ones in front of me. I didn’t want to get lost or lose my place in the procession either. We walked down the long courtyard and back into the main temple grounds to the 1000 Pillared Hall. At some point in the 1000 Pillared Hall it occurred to me that there was no way I would actually get lost because by now I knew my way around the temple, and even the town, and so I should stop worrying and actually look up and enjoy the procession. There wasn’t even a need to maintain my place in the procession really, so I should just relax. This thought went through my head and I immediately looked up and gazed around.
The carved faces on the columns blended with the faces of the crowds which covered every square centimeter of space inside the hall. All of the colors of eyes and clothing and skin and hair were moving together. Singing together. At once, each of those faces became the cells of one body, my body. We were one huge organism breathing as one. Swaying and dancing and loving as one. Each individual was a unique awareness that had chosen to be here at this moment to experience This Moment. And it was complete harmony. Complete balance as the currents of human culture and excitement pulsed through our veins and our hearts together. All of the external movement supported a greater internal truth. Eyes closed or eyes wide open, we were one giant being together, supporting each other, loving each other, by the grace of Nataraja. A kula in the highest sense of the word.
The bells of the temple began to ring. Nataraja returned to his resting place, and Shivakamasundari to hers. All was in order, ready to rest and then begin anew.
2011 is not over yet. There is still time to learn to ride the ocean waves. But for now, I am content riding the waves of grace.
Next: I Dream of Water