Some of my fellow meditation students have been asking me, “What is the single most important gift or revelation you received when you were in India recently?”
There are several that were truly extraordinary, completely unexpected and precious gifts. So it was difficult to answer. Yet first and foremost, I told them that it is important to understand: You do not need to go to Chidambarm. Yes, it is an exquisite temple with an extraordinary history that is a sort of “spiritual home” a place of grounding of our tradition on the planet. The place where Shiva Nataraja, the Dancer who is dancing the dance of all life and being into existence, within our own highest Consciousness. There in that temple He is praised and recognized in ritual and personal homage, as has been done for so long. (Perhaps since the second century of the common era.)
But there is nothing that you must go there to receive. As an initiated student and practitioner in our tradition, that which is “there” already lives inside you. You do not need to go there to receive it. If that were the case then it would be problematic. If you had to go there to receive this blessing and knowledge, then you might need to return again and again to renew it.
But it is not so. Visiting Chidambaram is a celebration and witnessing of a certain configuration and tradition of that celebration. It is a recognition (Darshan) of your own Highest Self which you access every day in your Nilakantha meditation.
That said, this was my highest gift from Chidambaram: When my friend Patrick and I first arrived there we went to our Dikshitar priest (our advocate and guide here), Sundaramoorthy Dikshitar. He took us first to the Thillai Kali temple located about one mile from the main Nataraja Temple.
This was the “home” of the extraordinary expression of the innate power of nature and of the universe known as Kali. Here are housed murtis (statue forms) of Kali, both in her benign pleasing and gently form, beautifully adorned. And yet just off to the left of this, facing the opposite direction, is her fierce and terrifying form. One glance at Kali in this form shakes me to my core.
She is buried completely in a small mountain of red cumcum powder to keep her appeased, only her eyes are uncovered. They are an abyss. They are the primordial abysmal eyes of the mother goddess, utterly black and bottomless. It is a knowing that one day they will swallow you in death and take you back. For it is she that breathes life into you as an embodied person, for this time on earth. And yet that abyss is utterly filled with the most astonishing love. It beckons. That is Kali.
Historically, it is revealed that originally, this whole central Kali Temple, together with Kali in her own form as the Dancer of Life, was actually located within the main temple directly in front of Shiva Nataraja. They faced each other, and the temple tradition indicates that they loved to dance to each other. The great cosmic dance “contest” was their sport. Shiva dancing the totality that held the entire universe within Himself. And Kali, the maha-Shakti, the great wheel of potencies that is the operational expression of everything. They are one. But the arrival of Brahmin priests of the Vedic tradition at one point of history objected to this. The compromise was that the Thillai Kali Temple be removed from the main Nataraja Temple of Chidambaram and be re-located to the outskirts of the town where it is today. (They also introduced at this time the ritual worship of the “crystal lingam” as a symbol of Shiva worship, even thought the Nataraja form of Dancing Shiva could never be displaced there.)
My own personal experience at the Temple, one that was very intimate and lives in me now, is just precisely this: the restoration of Kali to the temple within-my-own-Heart, to Dance again, before and with Shiva Nataraja. When I went to the main temple for my first darshan there, the first of many in the earliest morning. Where the town’s worshippers assembled to visit the Dancer before beginning their daily activities. Gathered with them, to the sound of the amazing bells of the temple, ringing in praise and celebration of life.
Kali and Shiva dancing before each other forever, and at this very moment, within the temple of my own Heart. That was my most astonishing and beautiful gift from Chidambaram. (And I can still hear those beautiful bells ringing, ringing.)