Archives for the month of: December, 2014

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5th September, 2014

Well, this drawing is raw, the flaws camouflaged behind the shading! Every art needs practice and sadhana. Talent is endowed, and yet what remains in our hands is to see them blossom and bloom, like the constant tilling of the soil.

The look: it’s like looking frontally into your mirror, boldly, confidently. It is not a side glance, timid, hesitant, or a sheepish look into a passing reflective surface. It is the same look of a village woman, who if drawn to observe you, stops boldly in her tracks, and stares directly into your eyes.

Before Shyamala Akka pointed these corrections to me, I often felt like I was extremely graceful in my tilts, looks, and jumps for this particular movement. But it was the play of the ego. Many a times, I’ve observed that if one thinks one is a master at something, quite often the beauty and grace of that movement escapes oneself, and one’s flighty joy bellows out a discordant note! It is of such importance to walk upon this path, with care, attentiveness, and an inward vigilance. It reminds me of the village women of rural India, who carry brass water vessels on their heads, water full to its brim. They walk with such exquisite poise, balance and grace, their upright posture is in perfect alignment with their fluid breathing, and not a drop of water spills out of their brimming vessels!

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Lord Natraja

Lord Nataraja of Chidambaram, 4′ by 4′, oil painting by Ashwini Pawar Kaarthikeyan

The Ritualistic Initiation:

In the quiet hours of dawn, on the morning of 6th March, 2013, five classical dancers entered the Chidambaram temple, one of the five holiest Shiva temples representing the classical element of Akasha ~ ether. We silently walked toward the main Sanctum Sanctorium. There, a silken curtain veiled the sacred idol of Lord Nataraja. Behind this veil, the priests were readying the God, for the early morning Abhishekam ~ the most elaborate puja of the morning. Praying inwardly with excitement and nervousness, I stood at the edge of the still, shimmering curtain. At the auspicious hour, the veil dropped, and lo and behold, these eyes fell upon the resplendent image of Lord Shiva, in the pose as Nataraja, performing the Ananda Tandava, “Dance of Delight”! The brass temple bells chimed all over Chidambaram in synchronicity, as the gathered bhaktas ~ devotees, joyfully participated in the magnificent pooja. We were asked to place our brass anklets upon a large brass plate by the temple head priest. This plate was then kept at the feet of Lord Nataraja. Our names and our Nakshatram ~ birth star, were spoken aloud in prayer by the priest, a unique tradition in Southern India, when receiving the blessing from the Lord. At the end of the pooja, our brass anklets were returned to us. We were felicitated by the head priest of this ancient temple with a silken shawl, also garlanded with a densely woven, yet light weight, fragrant grass called Vettiver ~ Khus, dear to Lord Shiva. After a pradakshina ~ circuambulating the temple, we sat down for Homan ritual, making offerings into a consecrated fire with the temple priest. He chanted mantras for the well-being of the dancers, and once again each of our name, and nakshatram was pronounced into the fire, for blessings. The morning ritual was complete just before the first Maha-arati, a prayer for the Lord. We were led to the platform opposite the main sanctum of Lord Nataraja. The senior-most amongst us, Dancer Malavika Sarukkai, was invited first to offer her dance to the Lord, followed by the four of us.

The Offering to Lord Nataraja:

Four dancers, before me, sanctified the temple space through their dances with an accompanying live orchestra. I was the final one to offer my dance. An archival recording of musical compositions sung by Shri M. S. Ramdas & Shri Ramiah Pillai, from the T. Balasaraswati tradition, was handed to me by my teacher, Smt Shyamala, who had initiated me into their tradition, only two months earlier, at the Kamakshi Amman Temple in Kanchipuram. Shyamala Akka had also surprised me by arriving all the way from Chennai, moments before my dance offering to the Lord. It was my first public performance in this tradition. I felt blessed with the unexpected presence of my teacher, whose wise words of blessing still remain etched in my being. She reminded me that my offering of dance to Lord Nataraja of Chidambaram was a kind of a spiritual test of presence and single-minded devotion. The ego will be challenged. I may experience trepidition and an inward struggle. Yet, it will also be a direct experience of feeling the powerful and compassionate presence of the Lord of dance. And this is precisely what unfolded. I began my dance with the Alarippu, with the awareness that through this opening dance, I journey inward. As I struggled to unlearn my habit body to charm the gathered audience, my being suddenly dropped into an inward prayer. The space within softened. The breathing calmed. This body trembled with life and vitality. The lilting alaapana of Khamas ragam, prepared me for the chosen Padam, ‘Theruvil Varano’, which is a devotional song about a Nayika, who stands at her gate, watching the festive temple procession of Lord Shiva, going past her home. The refrain in this song to Lord Shiva is, “ Will you not turn back and give me a fleeting glance, O beloved Chidambaram Natham~Lord?”. I stood still with a beating heart, eyes closed. Moved by the raga, these eyelids looked up slowly, and saw Lord Natraja standing right ahead of me. Enveloped in his resplendent presence, this throat choked up with emotion, tears welled up inside bhakti, the crowds disappeared, the gait calmed down, the sound of my anklets merged with the voices of my accompanying musicians, transporting us all into eternity. In William Blake’s words, ‘To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour’. I felt the Lords presence. I recognised my destiny. I was humbled. Drowning into a blissful state of gratitude, tears cleansing a hidden past, once hindered, blocked, repressed, but not anymore, I heard a voice say.

Today, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, these wings soar towards light of love, unhindered, unafraid and adorned in happiness!

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It’s a proud thing for me to be able to say that Mr. Kirubhakaran was my father. Every charitable thought I’ve had, every goodness that I’ve found inspiring in others, profound ideas that I embraced as my own, prayers that have moulded me into the embrace of God, living and present in our ordinary everyday moments, all this I owe to my father and to my mother who helped me examine every new idea that my father brought into our lives. My father as you all know was a very simple man, of few possessions, with a tendency to gift away any income he saw as surplus, to those in need. His final passing was on wings, free to fly and to soar, unburdened by attachment to anything material, and yet, in his presence, we felt the depth of his love for us and we felt so grateful for whatever time was given to us, to spend with him. Rest in peace, my dearest father. We love you more than we can say. It has been a privilege to be your son and for that I am eternally grateful to the one who sent me to you. I speak for every one of us here, when I say that you were an easy man to love and to cherish.

My brother Shankar writes:

Thanks for the

Lifetime of laughter and all the jokes at breakfast time
Magic tricks and pillow games with the grandkids
All the places we visited together and
Teaching us to look and learn in unique ways
Living a simplicity where the driver was mistaken as the officer at work
Helping us develop a love for all religions and
Instilling core values of respect and tolerance
Making every meal we had together feel like a banquet
Celebrating every one of Amma’s recipes
Challenging our minds across unimaginable fields of creativity
Being a pillar of support and encouragement as we muddled through life
Demonstrating the new beginnings over and over again, after Akka and Thatha passing, life after retirement, new discoveries in space or a profound truth realized
Teaching us about gratitude
Always being there for us and
Giving us all your love

I cannot remember the number of times that we have said the Christian prayer “Our Father in Heaven” but now it has a much deeper and personal feeling as now I know the Face of God!

Thank you dearest Appa! All my love!