March 30, 2003


If you have an impulse to do something do it  and don't delay or make excuses.  You'll never know what it may bring you.  Case in point: A few weeks ago I was going to my usual restaurant which was closed so I went a little further up the street, nearer to the main temple in the area.  Finishing the meal I thought, "Hmmm…there's supposed to be a festival happening soon.  10 days long..I can go anytime."  So making my way home I figured it's not too late, I've got nothing to do this evening..why not go I the perfect time.

Making my way around the corner and the air is electric.... you could feel the festival vibe.  Throngs of people selling, buying, crying, laughing, praying in all directions.  Closer to the temple and it's more crowded.  The alley leading up is packed on either side and in the middle numbers of large kollams (amazing rice flour "drawings" which are hypnotic to look at) are plastered all the way up.  I drop my shoes at the stand and don't know what to expect through the 20 foot high door.  Inside I can see all people looking in one direction and they're mainly quiet.  Once inside myself it's synchronicity.  At that moment, the curtain comes down and the main idol of the temple, Kapaleeswarar, is sitting atop a horse, bedazzled in jewels, flowers, perfumes..surrounded by the main priests who rain rose petals on him.  At that moment the hundreds gathered murmur in unison, hands up in prayer..two drummers go off frenetically, cymbal players go in and out of time, a tavil/nagaswaram group is off in the distance, conchs are blown, 5-pronged torches and large bowls of incense lead the way and make their way around everyone and a marching band begins with a huge bass drum (at one point they played "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow"..I laughed out loud), a heartbeat if there ever was one, and the palanquin is raised on the shoulders of about 30 devotees and charges forward. At that moment, you have no choice but to become part of the river of people  in front of the palanquin as it sways to and fro and God is dancing 15 feet above us it seems.  Awe inspiring creations.  Outside EVERYONE wants to get close..periodically the brigade pauses, charges, pauses...always signaled by the bass drum.    At one point, the idol stops under a canopy.  Connected to it by a series of pulleys is something akin to a brass angel with bells on it's wings and a little bucket in front.  This is loaded with flower petals and swings bit-by-bit, closer and closer, anticipated by all watching and at the right time is tilted and the petals flow over the idol to the cheers and smiles of everyone.  Beautiful indeed.  This whole process goes on for a couple of hours as they must circumnavigate around the four streets around the temple.  I went home.  But each day afterwards it was much of the same with a twist each time.  On one day they took out the temple car.  Basically, it has wheels taller than me, raises to a point about 40 feet into the air, is decorated in due fashion, drummers, priests and devotees ride with the idol and all are pulled around the neighbourhood by a rope almost a foot thick, while surrounded by hundreds of people…and an elephant (which later was found to be ill-treated and exploited, being made to beg for coins and underfed..but that's a different story).  The cacophony, music, movement and of course faith, together put everyone in that festive mood.  You forget about yourself a bit, don't care how much your sweating, where your shoes are, what you have to get up for tomorrow or any trivial matter.  Here and now and enjoying it.   We need more festivals in the world.  

A few days after that I had a profound experience at the beach.  I was there, midday and it's scorching.  Walking along looking for a spot relatively free of filth and ahead I can hear and see a man who could be diagnosed as crazy by most.  He's screaming/singing and I pass him by not wanting to attract any more attention than I usually do.  So I find a spot, clean enough (though any filth that washes into the water 40 feet away will probably make it to you eventually) and wait for the sun to come out from the clouds so I can heat up before cooling down.  Standing and waiting while the aforementioned man comes up to me.  I look briefly at him and look back the water.  Next thing I know, he prostrates himself down before me, lays down a piece of wood and an incense box with Shiva on it and mumbles something with the word Swamy in it.  I say No in Tamil and he remains in the shallow water in front of me.  Looking at me, he takes water in his hands and lets it seep through his fingers, the same with sand.  Then he gets beside me and starts taking ripped pieces of paper from inside his thick jacket and numerous shirts and throws it into the water and watches it wash away.  Then some plastic and a couple of marbles.  Finally, he curls up, half in the water, half in the sand and goes to sleep(!)  with the waves periodically washing over him.   I wonder...... and wait for the sun to come up.  He eventually gets up and moves on and the sun comes out and I'm in the water.

  Again at the beach one midnight after the festival and the day before the full moon and its raining for the first time in months, "tunder and lightnin" as they back home.  I figured I'd walk to the shore and watch the rain on the waves.  Though bright, it was still too dark so I just stood in water and enjoyed the rainy solitude.  Standing there and it's flashing behind me and thunder in the distance.  Then as I'm looking out...a huge cascade of lightning illuminates the whole ocean for a second and it becomes this olive mass moving in front of me with white caps rushes over each other.  I murmured and lost a breath. Immediately after that a deafening  clap of thunder rips through the ether and distorts itself and shakes the earth so it seems.  Standing in the water, lightning planting itself in the water and me in the water on the earth...I felt charged, spiritualized., connected...unlike anything else.  A gift.   So now I implore all to go the water whenever they can, especially during electrical storms.  

Hmmm...this e-mail appears long so I'll stop now.  Guruji has gone and now I have little reason to stay in this hot and polluted city.  In two weeks I go further south to parts and people unknown. 

  Until then....          


FEBRUARY 10, 2011
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