Amaurosis Unveiled

In the Tamil language the Lord of Dance Shiva Natarajar is also known as Tillai Kuttan (say “Kuu-tan”). He is described as the “Dancer of the Blinding Forest” because, it is said, that once upon a time a vast mangrove forest enveloped the brackish byways where today stands the great temple city of Chidambaram, deep in south India. The tillai is no ordinary forest grove: its fruit and flowers are dangerously toxic and its circuitous aqueducts a menace to all who accept the forbidding invitation.  But times have indeed changed— at least in some ways— and today we enter these same precincts with the gracious aid of the Podhu Diksitar priests, descendants of the original “three thousand,” the muvariyavar, brought from the heavens to perform the pujas, the rituals that are daily performed in witness of the Dancer and his beloved Ambal, the goddess Sivakamasundari.

My teacher, Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy, whom I call “Appa,” grew up in Chidambaram in the home of Sri Rajaratana Diksitar, where he evolved his life into every aspect of Natarajar’s lore. He had experienced first hand the toxicity of the tillai trees and reveled as much in telling the ancient stories of those who dared to enter the glowering darkness to seek out the Dancer’s grace.  Nowadays, of course, we seem to enter with such ease, guided and made welcome by the Diksitars.  But Appa also explained that to venture into such a forest is enter the depths of one’s heart, and when you go there, to love with all your heart you must put your heart at risk. Such a place can never be entirely safe because for all the ways in which love provides every reason to live, love also puts everything in peril.  How could it be otherwise?


Leave a Reply