Lord NatarajaThe auspicious day of Maha Shivaratri was a week away. My travels were taking me to a heritage village in Karnataka, to receive the blessings of a mystic. I have a premonition that on the night of Maha Shivaratri, I am to offer my dance to the Lord Nataraja. Intuitive processes, guide me to pack my bags for this journey. I choose a range of beautiful ornaments and choicest silk saris. I carefully place these in my suitcase. The classical dancer within begins to gather her additional belongings. Firstly, she picks hues of pigment colors to accentuate her eyes, lips and face. Then she packs a range of vibrant liquid enamel bottles to paint her nails with. She chooses to leave behind the bottle of deep red, liquid alta that usually outlines her palms and feet. However, she’s drawn to take with her, two pairs of specially cast, brass-anklets from Bali, Indonesia. The sound of one pair of anklets with the smaller sized, brass bells is suited for intimate spaces that have a more contained sound vibration. The other pair of anklets has larger, brass bells, which seem, better suited for large open spaces with high ceilings, or spaces, unbarred to a vast expanse of sky. She places all her delicate ornaments in a range of cheerful, silken pouches; cushioned on the inside with layers of soft, fine cloth. She chooses to take along a pair of delicate, grape-vine string of tiny pearls for her ear-rings, an ornate bindi with a crescent moon motif fringed with loose pearls, to hang from the central divide of her parted hair (a spool of thin black thread to hold it in place while dancing), a range of gold necklaces of varying lengths, embedded with rubies, emeralds or diamonds, along with finger rings, bangles in glass/gold/diamonds, a gilded waist belt, a variation of two pairs of black parandas which are bejeweled at its far end with rubies, pearls and diamonds. Then, she wraps up finely crafted pairs of leather slippers, a few silken purses to match the saris, ornate safety pins, and handkerchiefs with flower motifs. She places small glass bottles of attar-perfumes in suitable pouches, along with silver dabbi (small box) of two shades of red kumkum powder for her forehead. Next comes a smaller ornate, dabbi of translucent wax, fragrant with pure sandalwood paste, to stick this dry red kumkum powder upon her forehead.

I arrive at my destination. The journey leaves me fatigued. Maha Shivaratri dawns twenty-four hours later. I am nervous, as my body and mind, are still finding their center. But time waits for no one. I am told that in an hour’s time, an intimate audience will await to celebrate my dance offering to Lord Shiva. With an inward chant of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’, I begin to get ready. The deep, blue silk, Paithani sari from Maharashtra beckons me. I lay it carefully next to my dressing table. First, I comb my hair, the paranda weaves itself into my hair, at the precise length. Then comes the makeup. The eyes transform, the lips redden, the eyebrows take the shape of a classical bow. This time, my fingers are guided to color-pigment cakes of blue, orange and golden hues. With some trepidation, I observe my face as a blank canvas ready to be transformed into an ancient, classical painting. I highlight the plain contours of the face with bold coloured, brush strokes. I allow myself to be my own master. It is the night for the Lord of destruction and transformation. I make bold. And soon, the painted muse steps out from the blank canvas of my face and body. She is ready from head to toe. Her hair bereft of flowers, she searches for a temple to buy flowers for her hair from a flower seller. She is guided to small shop. The delicate jasmine flowers of Karnataka have a subtler fragrance than the ones she delights in Tamil Nadu. Yet, her heart rejoices. She enters the heritage village, and is led to the doorway of an illumined rustic house built with Laterite stones from Karnataka. As she steps inside, a blazing golden hue welcomes her in. She stands before a gallery of the most beautiful, gilded, Pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The most resplendent of them all is a huge Tanjavore painting of Lord Nataraja, with a towering gopuram, embellished with 108 dancing poses of the Lord himself! She feels blessed, over-whelmed, every cell in her body rejuvenated, alive and awake. She prays with all her heart. Her body, mind, and spirit, become one. Her being brims with reverence, delight and gratitude. The elder mystic takes his seat along with few other rasikas. The music begins to play and she dances, dances and dances. At the end of her offering, silence returns into this sacred chamber of divinity. She bows down in gratitude, and receives the applause.

We return into the silence of her room. I look into the mirror. Wiping off the layers of colored pigment with a wet cloth, she leaves, and the canvas of my face returns to its natural pallor. I carefully place all the ornaments in their pouches, untie my hair, loosely fold the nine yards of silk, and let it lay to dry. Entering a waterfall of flowing water, this body cleansed, I lay myself down into the quietness of the night. The fatigue metamorphoses into overflowing vitality. I lay awake until dawn, restless, and charged with an inner fire. At first light of dawn, this body surrenders to deep slumber. I awaken to a beautiful new morning, cloaked in love and happiness …