The rush is maddening. A man admonishes his child for not folding her hands in the sanctum sanctorum. “Kaiya koopu! Nee onnum periya doulath illa!” he spews words on her head. Instead of gathering my thoughts, I wonder if that child knows what doulath means. It’s hard for me to focus, ask the cosmic dancer to grant my wishes, over the man’s angry voice. I still try.
It’s a busy day at Chidambaram’s Thillai Nataraja Temple. Hundreds and hundreds of women sprint, dart, bolt around the radiant room of Nataraja, muttering prayers under their breath, holding their pallus, dragging their children, holding their hearts, and beseeching the ecstatic performer to be kind to them. Religious marathoners. But where are the men?
As I step out from the sanctum sanctorum, I am lost in a whirlpool of humanity. Like the child who was just rebuked, I stand there soaking in the collective energy exuded by the amblers’s dreams and despairs. I can’t see the sun but the light enters the corridor, as though a weaver unrolls his newly woven spools of silk. I resist the crowd for a quick moment to bask in that warm, tender light. To my surprise, people make their way around me, and continue their walks relentlessly. They are the river, I am the rock, and it feels great to be the rock sometimes.
On my way to the stage of the said dancer, I spotted a Muslim woman in the temple. The little gems on her abaya gleamed; a purple hijab covered her head. Her right hand clutched her footwear, her left hand held her abaya up, and she walked like a monk who was lost in meditation. My friend said that she took that way to reach the street behind the temple.
In that electric, hurried atmosphere, she seemed lonely, crestfallen. I traced her path until she disappeared. A little later, She didn’t seem alone, isolated. In that sea of religion, she sculled her boat quietly, with her undivided attention on the waves which could turn rough and choppy.
I will remember her for her measured steps.
In that enormous ocean, she was a seasoned seafarer.