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March 2002

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Please sit, they are chanting to the Gods

- by Roger


Saroja and Lakshmiprabha in the Shiva temple in Irumbai

Aurovilians and villagers come together at a festival in the Shiva temple at Irumbai

Small clusters of children - some dark skinned, some blonde - were launching lit earthen lamps on lotus leaves from the steps of the Irumbai temple pond, as I approached down the coconut-palm fringed road at dusk. Elsewhere on the steps, a small group of Aurovilians and villagers were quietly soaking wicks and filling the earthen oil lamps that another Aurovilian was lighting, precariously straddled on the upper reaches of the outer temple wall. Bundles of bananas hung from an arch of banana stalks at the temple's Southern entrance, with a garlanded stone Ganesh presiding, beneath a gnarled neem tree, to the side. Outside, as well as within the small temple's courtyard, colourful petal-strewn chalk 'kolam' designs of floral and animal motifs decorated the pavement.

And as village women sat in small groups stringing garlands for the Gods, dozens of people wandered around examining, or paying tribute to the temple's various niches and shrines to Ganesha, Murugan, Koil Amma (Goddess of the Kuil bird-a local variant of Saraswati), the planets, and Shiva in his form of the lord of Fire. Inside the temple the incense hung thick midst soot and smoke stained walls as people sat or prayed to the famous lingam of legend that exploded in answer to Kaduvelli Siddha's prayer to Lord Shiva for a sign attesting to his purity of intent after he had reattached a dancer's anklet at a public performance hosted by the local king.

Suddenly a troupe of musicians entered and in a crescendo of sounds: drumming, a temple clarinet and the ringing of ritual bells, the sari-draped statues of Lord Shiva and Parvati, placed on a palanquin, were hoisted on sturdy shoulders and carried out of the temple into the courtyard. The idols were then taken in slow procession around the outside of the temple walls, the bearers swaying rhythmically as they moved. At the East entrance the procession paused briefly as the light of the rising moon lit the low lying clouds clustered on the horizon.

Back in the temple compound the statues were placed at the far end of the now crowded courtyard facing the dais with its illumined AUM symbol. While I was talking to Srimoyi, who had danced the role of the temptress in the Auroville play of the Kaduvelli Siddha legend a few years back, a temple attendant gestured to us "Please sit, they are chanting to the Gods" pointing to the statues behind us. On the facing dais, two Brahmins from Pondicherry then chanted slokas from the Yajur Veda for half an hour, followed by an Ashram student who recited hymns to Lord Shiva. The magical evening continued with an inspired one-hour performance of Bharatnatyam dancing by Saroja and Lakshmiprabha from Auroville, followed by a recitation by Srimati Sivadi of the Tevaram, a seventh century tamil poem composed by Thiru Jnanasambandar in praise of Irumbai temple.

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