The Festival of Navaratri

The October heat in the afternoons is on the rise. The village woman grinds freshly plucked henna leaves from the garden into a smooth paste. I am full of curiosity & wonder, as she takes my hands into hers. She lovingly envelops the tips of my fingers, and my toes with the thick green paste of henna. Its perfect consistency is achieved by adding to it the juice of a few lemons from her garden. She is gifted at weaving conversations. She keeps me patiently engaged with colourful folklores around henna, and it’s magical benefits upon the well-being of a woman. I receive her love. I receive her joy. I receive her blessing.

To allow the henna to reveal its gifts, I am forced to halt all activity. Unable to dance, or to read, or to paint, or to listen to music, I surrender to laying down upon the floor beneath me. She directs me to rest at a spot on the floor where a wonderful breeze blows directly upon me, speeding the drying up of the henna paste. Unable to move, I recollect and hum to myself beautiful padams – dance compositions. It is a joy to sing aloud to the vast spaciousness around me. I have forgotten the pleasure of leisurely laying on the ground, just staring aimlessly at the ceiling. A childlike playful excitement bubbles through my body. I can sense the light orange of the henna darken into a deeper red, with the slow passage of time. The aroma is giddying and delightful. A few hours later, the leaves dry upon my skin. She helps take it all off with a wide & content smile. The darkened orangish-red colour is to her satisfaction. Her joy is contagious. I am overflowing with love and deep gratitude for our sisterhood. I am waiting for dawn to dance in celebration of the joy that henna awakens in me.

Wishing all of you a blessed, joyful and nurturing Navaratri in celebration of the Mother Nature and all Her beautiful forms. 🙏🏽

A few weeks back, an endearing young woman, expressed her desire to learn Indian classical dance from me. Her strong desire and my openness to step into sharing what I know, aligned right away. “Yes. Let us begin this evening”, I said. She lit up with excitement. I sensed a familiar unfounded joy ignite between both of us. We parted momentarily to get ourselves ready for the evening lesson. Every ticking second, unfurled a storm of butterflies in my stomach. By and by, the heat of the afternoon sun softened. As the slanting rays of twilight fell upon the sacred altar, we joined our hands in prayer. Paying homage to all the divine forces, we touched the earth upon which we stood with folded hands, and took Her blessings. The two of us stood face to face. In full faith, we opened ourselves up to give and to receive the dance of life, through our body and breath.

The next day, she brought another young woman along, whose burning desire to dance Bharatanatyam was keenly palpable. I heard a whisper say, “More the merrier.” So now, we were a circle of three. Every day, at an opportune moment, we practiced the classical dance form. I led the instructions. Often, I too danced with them. We were like three tribal women, meeting at a communal dance circle. Our dancing had a raw beauty, joy, and spontaneity to it. The body began to awaken to the power of its life force. Our five senses grew attentive. The tensed tight limbs began to welcome the muscle pain. The resilience, the determination, the staying power to transcend this pain began to grow.

I let go of all previous impressions. I let go of all judgment. I let go of the how, why and when. I allowed the not-knowing. I allowed an unlearning. I allowed faltering. I allowed playfulness. I allowed the joy and fun of dance to take centre stage. Together, we began to remember. I heard words of wisdom resounding in the air around us, ‘All learning is a remembering.’ We reawakened to that which is alive in the memory of each cell, vein, artery, and heartbeat inside our physical body. The thrill of rhythm, and the calm inside stillness, slowly unveiled before us.

We began to purge blocked energies. Streams of energy began to move in and out of our pores. Sweat streams cooled off our heated bodies. As if bathed in the cooling drops of the first rain, our racing heartbeat began to recognise its innate rhythm. The staying power began to grow stronger. Devoid of external mirrors, we began to know our body and its classical proportions from the inside. The inner eye began to reflect back the body’s own sacred geometry. We moved inside out into the horizontals, the verticals, the diagonals, and touched the circumference of our inner/outer circles. We began to sense the density of space. We began to move through the vacuum and the void. We began to extend ourselves into infinity. We began to taste the peace, the calm and the balance, when seated upon the golden throne of our body’s sacred mandala. Our spine elongated. Our shoulders rolled back. The legs bent into a square. Our pelvic bone opened to receive the downpour of energy. The vertical shaft of light began to break an inner cocoon. The butterfly began to birth out of the chrysalis. The women circle began to facilitate their rebirth. Together, they allowed the mad and divine to enter. They began to remember what they already know.



Each one of us is a unique flower blooming to embrace eternity. Each one unfurls her own fragrance. Each one of us is complete in her form. Together, we allow our full blossoming, unhindered, unafraid. When the night falls, our bodies spread restfully like the wide green leaves of a lotus, and lay afloat meditatively upon clear waters. Our roots grow deep into muddy waters. Our stems extend far and wide. When the light, the temperature, and the sensory perceptions align, we bloom open like beautiful, vibrant lotuses. Some bloom at night to the coolness of the silvery moon (कुमुदिनी – Kumudini). Some bloom to the warmth of the morning sun (पंकजम – Pankajam). We are Kumudinis dancing in celebration of the kiss by the Silvery Moon. We are Pankajams in celebration of the life force streaming into us from the Golden Sun.

So it is.

तथास्तु – Tathasthu.

{Please note: The Sanskrit word ‘तथास्तु -Tathasthu’, has been translated by most scholars as, ‘So be it’. I would like to acknowledge that on the morning I penned this post, I received a letter from my dearest friend, Hema A Bharadwaj. It was Hema, who helped me see, that the actual translation of ‘Tathasthu’ aught to be, ‘SO IT IS’. Her lucid insight opened a spaciousness inside of me, & directly influenced the title of this post. I am deeply grateful for our friendship, which has been a healing & transformative force throughout my life. Our sacred friendship has also been the driving force behind,, this common blog between Hema, Kaarthikeyan & myself, since May 2012. }

I have won all the awards in the world.

All is done.

All is done.

The turtle sings and the birds swim.

The fish fly and the dragonflies crawl.

Go deep down inside.

To the coolest darkest quietest place.

Where no ripple nor wind touches you.

Where all the awards are won.

Here is there and there is everywhere

I am swimming in a waterless sea

Of perfect vibration

Small remembrances and hurts

Shrinking into the ether

Silenced forever

Resting in stillness. Watching pigeons in flight. Listening to the melodies of the sensuous ocean waves. Bobbing wooden boats carry curious explorers into the Arabian Sea. There is such heightened poetry in these pregnant monsoon skies !

Photo Courtesy: Kamakshi Kaarthikeyan