Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Amaurosis Unveiled

In the Tamil language the Lord of Dance Shiva Natarajar is also known as Tillai Kuttan (say "Kuu-tan"). He is described as the "Dancer of the Blinding Forest" because, it is said, that once upon a time a vast mangrove forest enveloped the brackish byways where today stands the great temple city of Chidambaram, deep in south India. The tillai is no ordinary forest grove: its fruit and flowers are dangerously toxic and its circuitous aqueducts a menace to all who accept the forbidding invitation.  But times have indeed changed--- at least in some ways--- and today we enter these same precincts with the gracious aid of the Podhu Diksitar priests, descendants of the original "three thousand," the muvariyavar, brought from the heavens to perform the pujas, the rituals that are daily performed in witness of the Dancer and his beloved Ambal, the goddess Sivakamasundari.

My teacher, Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy, whom I call "Appa," grew up in Chidambaram in the home of Sri Rajaratana Diksitar, where he evolved his life into every aspect of Natarajar's lore. He had experienced first hand the toxicity of the tillai trees and reveled as much in telling the ancient stories of those who dared to enter the glowering darkness to seek out the Dancer's grace.  Nowadays, of course, we seem to enter with such ease, guided and made welcome by the Diksitars.  But Appa also explained that to venture into such a forest is enter the depths of one's heart, and when you go there, to love with all your heart you must put your heart at risk. Such a place can never be entirely safe because for all the ways in which love provides every reason to live, love also puts everything in peril.  How could it be otherwise?

The chalk notice written in Tamil that you see at the top of the page appeared inside the temple of Sri Natarajar this past January.  It announces a small gift of sugar cane and turmeric root made to each of the Podhu Diksitar families, the Priests of the Sabanayaka Temple, that they might come and collect in celebration of the holiday of Pongal.  The gift was made in the name of Dr. Sundarmoorthy but those of you who were there know that you made this possible because it was you who ventured this time into the forest, you who took the risk to enter the place where the heart puts everything before the Dancer.  Thank you for this gift and for your gracious hearts.

The words below are assembled from my notebooks as Appa described Tillai Kuttan and our journey into his forest. There are many more such journeys ahead.

Tillai Kuttan, The Forest Dancer

Enter the Blinding Forest of the Tillai at your peril,
Where the Lord of Dance performs his Tandavas, and
Sages Descend as Grace to drink the Tiger’s Milk, with
Three Thousand Born to Serve.
Dare but do not touch the milky mangrove,
For your skin will burn and blister, amaurois too and
smoke that poisons when leaves are long since dried.
But choose to chance it all and gamble with the dice,
as did he and his beloved,
And perhaps you will also see the Dance of Tillai Kuttan,
find healing to cureless love and refuge in life’s artistry,
Beneath the golden roof within the Hall of Consciousness.

----assembled and rendered from the words of Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoothy