* – The Secret of Chidambaram…Revealed!
While in Chidambaram to attend a wedding, I had the opportunity to go to the Natarajar temple, that temple which has been the symbol of Chidambaram for centuries.
Entering through the east gopuram, I found myself in a quiet courtyard, with the gentle breeze keeping me company, along with a few families eating their lemon rice from paper bundles. I walked a little further and entered the main temple complex – or rather, I walked a little further and the temple complex burst into view, with numerous overwhelming stimuli competing for my response. Natarajar was being returned to his shrine after the morning procession. Amidst the ringing of an enormous bell, another row of smaller bells being pulled forward and pushed behind by a dedicated bell-ringer, men rattling the udukkai in the palm of their hands, others blowing into pristine white conches, drums, cymbals, an instrument that sounded like a cross between a trumpet and a flute, the smell of incense-flowers-camphor, a little bit of grime and sweat and much devotion; I stood with the blood flowing to my forehead all of a sudden, a vague throbbing in the sides of my face, and the hair on my nape standing up. I hadn’t been that present in the present in a long time, for I always find ways to be distracted and preoccupied. But in that moment, craning my neck along with a hundred others to get a glimpse of Sivan in his dancer’s pose, I did not think of what made me come here that morning, or how I would get back, or what I should pray for. In that moment, I was both alone and in a crowd; in that moment, I couldn’t have remembered to ask for something in my prayer even if I wanted to.
I did find out what is meant by Chidambara Ragasiyam, after spending a childhood thinking it was something made up by Sun TV as a sequel to their Marmadesam, and also imagining that Chetan Hansraj (Vidadha Karuppu) would most definitely be involved; the truth seems a little tame in comparison. I suppose you will have to find out for yourself when you visit, for this secret isn’t one to be written about in a blog. I kept aside an hour for myself, to wander about in the vast premises of the temple, before my attendance was required at the wedding. I walked aimlessly through the long corridors, with gigantic columns on either side, I took in the sights and sounds and smells, and the little snippets of information that the priests put forth to every large group that assembles (perks of visiting a temple that is also a tourist site), I tried in vain to remember every detail I came across (such as who built what when how), I was rebuked by one of the priests for carelessly letting my wallet peek out of my handbag, and I also got lost in my attempt to go out the way I came in. Only after I got into the autorickshaw, did I discover I had missed an entire portion of the temple, where the female deity presided. Some other time, I told myself. History may be the story of victors, but it never fails to leave me in awe. I am but insignificant, and my smallness humbles me.