Shiva, Destroyer,Creator, Lord of the Dance in The Circle of Fire
Look to the Mountains
I Forgot about Shiva the Destroyer and Creator
In India on the "Sunny South Tour" we were driven up the famous seven hills to Tirumala Tirupati, the richest, most visited temple in India. The roof and interior of the inner sanctum is plated with pure gold.The guide said:
"You have to sign a piece of paper to get in. In the part where it asks what God you follow just put Shiva."
Many thousands of excited pilgrims, women in silks and men in starched cotton were happily waiting in long lines to enter the temple. They were freshly scrubbed and some had shaved their heads in an offering to the God.
We Sign the Paper
The officials gave us two white tourists the document to sign. Non Hindus could not enter the temple, so the paper asked if we were prepared to forsake all other Gods and follow..... I felt slightly anxious but quickly wrote in Shiva and signed it.
I rushed to find our group among the thousands waiting in line. As we waited the pilgrims chatted and sang and every so often there was a wave like at hockey games people bowed down and thousands of voices chanted "Going Down. Gooing Down" I asked the friendly people around me in the line why they were chanting "Going Down", but couldn't understand their answers because of their strong South India accents.
We finally reached the sculpted gold doors leading to the inner sanctum of the temple. It was fantastic-all shining gold, and beautifully wrought statues of the God. The priests blessed us and gave us lots of delicious sweet ladus. Later when we returned to Chennai I asked my friend Bhanu Swami why were we all chanting "Going Down?" Bhanu Swami is a senior Hindu priest at the Hari Krishna temple near Chennai. He almost fell to the floor laughing. "They were chanting GOVINDA," he said. I remembered that Govinda is an incarnation of Vishnu the preserver not Shiva the creator and destroyer. We wrote our vow to the wrong god. We are such dumb tourists.
A few years later I had forgotten about my vow to Shiva
I was in a little boat on a river in Viet Nam when I noticed an old temple on a hill. I hiked to the ruins of an ancient mountain temple. The stones of the temple were worn and the decorations obscure. I entered the dim inner sanctum and noticed people with their hands raised in supplication to the God. As I followed their example and raised my hands I was struck by a rush of energy and heard a sad voice in my ears: "Where have you been? Why have you forsaken me?" I felt tears running down my cheeks. I was frightened since I am not used to auditory hallucinations.And I was embarrassed that someone might see me crying so I wiped my hot cheeks and quickly exited the temple. Out in the sunny courtyard I asked an older lady with a guidebook: "What type of temple is this?"
"It's a Shiva Temple."
"But isn't Vietnam Buddhist?"
"This place used to be Hindu."
I had forgotten all about my vow to Shiva.
Shiva lives in the fire and in the mountains.
Shiva the Aeshtetic Meditator
In the Hindu religion Shivahas two popular incarnations. One as the aesthetic sadu living on the mountaintops. He meditates, smokes ganga and dances. He has captured the Goddess Ganga in his long dread locked hair and he lets her flow down from the Himalayan glaciers to form the holy Ganges River.
Shiva Dances Creation and Destruction
In another incarnation Shiva is the God of Dance. He dances in the circle of fire creating with his right hand while he destroys with his left hand. In Hinduism, like many pantheistic religions, the cycle of life is celebrated. There is no life without death. There is no death without rebirth into life. The goal of the soul is to pass through these thousands of cycles of life and rebirth to finally escape into a higher consciousness. I don't really understand this philosophy. But I once asked a friend:
"Should I not eat chicken soup because I was once a chicken?"
He said: "You were once a chicken and will be a chicken again and again."
Poetry is not easy for me. But being in the high mountains often inspires me to look for Shiva.
And when I look at the destructive force of nature and of humanity I hope we are evolving into something a little bit better.
Look to the mountains
The Himalayas, Rockies, Andes
The melting glaciers
Shiva, God of Dance, balances on the ridge
Dancing in his circle of fire
the dance of creation and destruction.
All my relations leap and swirl,
Alive and dead, male and female, orthodox and revolutionaries, Jewish mothers, butch dykes, survivors and victims, Gypsies, Gays, Catholics, Communists, Mental patients, Cambodians, Rwandans, Japanese, Ukrainians
All destroyed, all reborn
I jump and stamp my little feet
a pampered baby in velvet, the butch toddler in cowboy boots.
ballet dancer, tree climber, mountain climber, social climber,
Little old lady returning
Let’s dance on the mountaintops.
Dance in the circle of fire.
SHIVA and ME
If I imagine my life as a clean sheet of paper at my birth, or maybe a clean diaper, or better yet a new road map neatly laid out including my major life events:
Birth, Hebrew school, ballet lessons, tree climbing, Zionist summer camp, strapless grad gown, kibbutz in Israel, university, snotty Jewish sorority to catch a nice Jewish Lawyer or Doctor, join the matrons monthly Hadassah meetings with every hair in place. Then produce two point five brilliant children, and set them nicely out along their paths.
Well, if that was my roadmap, it started wrinkling from the very start. I never got the ballet moves right, could never bend over and gracefully touch my toes. And that coral pink strapless grad gown felt so prickly and uncomfortable, I could hardly move in it.
I couldn't smile at the eligible lawyers
I couldn't sit smiling and listen to eligible Jewish Lawyers, when there were revolutions to fight and mountains to climb, and so many cute girls to kiss. Then, somewhere along the way I got hooked on the shining white Himalayas: the thin bight air, the space where mother Ganges got herself tangled in Lord Shiva's wild dread-locked hair. Shiva dances our dance of life on the mountain tops, and Mother Ganges flows down from those bright icy places. I can’t stop myself from going back up, there despite the crumbling narrow routes and my trouble breathing in thin air.
My roadmap is torn and twisted
By now my road map is as twisted, torn and stained as the Tea Walla’s wipe up rag. Down in the foothills, at Rishikesh, I sit on the white sandy banks of Mother Ganges, looking back on all those charming women who were my lovers, but not one Jewish husband, not one Hadassah meeting. My hair is undyed, my face unbotoxed. There are plenty of mountains climbed, and rivers crossed, but no photos of children in my wallet. My outfit is faded; my lover's body is creased and sagging like mine as her warm arms rock me each night by the holy river. Her face lies close to mine, freckled and wrinkled as our two road maps.
Shiva Dancing in his Ring of Fire
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