Saturday, September 30, 2017

Remembering Shankari Devi, the quiet Shakti of Trinco

One year ago, today, on the first morning of Navaratri, I was in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, scheduled to drive back to Colombo. Of course, the day--and Navaratri--had to begin with a visit to Shankari Devi, the Amman, whose presence makes the Tirukoneeswarar Temple a Shakti Peeth.

The first time I went to visit her, I could barely find her. I kept asking where the Shakti Peeth was and no one around knew. She sits on the side, quietly, uncelebrated and waiting her turn for attention, even during Navaratri. That's patriarchy for you. 

I reach on time for the 6:30 a.m. aarti. I have 'tickets' for archanai at both sannidhis. But all the screens are down. There is no activity in the temple. Suddenly, as happens in Sri Lankan temples, there is a frantic burst and people run out of the temple. I don't understand and I stay in place, till a kind gentleman calls me outside.

The main aarti, the main lingam is actually in the open air, and that is where the first poojai takes place. I am entranced. I have passed this lingam and paid it little attention.

But now, as the sun rises directly over the impossibly beautiful sea behind, sitting under a pipal, almost invisible beneath the incense and dhuni and chanting and flowers, I am touched by a magic I never expected. This is one of the most beautiful aartis I have ever seen. I am so grateful for this moment of exquisite beauty.

And then, it's over, and the same crowd runs (literally, runs) back into the temple where then the main idol gets an aarti and finally, suddenly, it's Shankari Devi's turn. Mine is the solitary archanai chit for her. And her aarti takes barely a minute.

And so we celebrate Navaratri at this Shakti Peeth. I go home, entranced and sad, and a little angry (my mother later admonishes me, "Don't bring gender into the temple!"). I wonder what her neglect means for the people of her town. If you love and treasure him so much, how can she who empowers him, mean so little to you? A good question for many families, isn't it?