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Searching for the golden halls of Chidambaram

india Updated: Apr 07, 2012 23:12 IST

L Last Sunday marked a decade since the passing of the great Carnatic vidwan, singer KV Narayanaswamy. I heard him first in my teens at Vigyan Bhavan, Delhi, at that fantastic musicfest called the AIR Radio Sangeet Sammelan. The song that got me was a Tamil composition about Lord Shiva as the Lord of the golden halls (kanaka sabha) of Chidambaram temple in Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu Set in Raga Abhogi to the three-beat Rupaka Taalam, it was a statement of faith in the familiar all-India pattern:

"Can any deity equal the Sabhapati? (Nataraja, Lord of the cosmic stage, the temple of Chidambaram and the human heart). You cannot finder a kinder deity than Him in this world. If you but say 'Shiva Chidambaram' once, you attain salvation (paragati) without need of other merit. The Three Wise Souls (Shaiva saints Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar) attained His lotus feet in this manner, says the Purana. Hear then of Him in this song by Gopalakrishnan (the composer, Gopalakrishna Bharati)."

I was too callow of course to grasp the meaning, but the way Vidwan 'KVN' sang this song cut through the fog of Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull in my head and my inner idli, that radioactive Indian implant that we never had a chance against, glowed with unearthly light.

Too shy to articulate this emotional upheaval to anyone, I eventually asked Ms Vasuki, the Tamil lecturer at Miranda House, "Please tell me the meaning, Mam". Ms Vasuki was a child widow who had been helped to an education in old Madras and become an academic of distinction. She lived quietly in the MH hostel, never drawing attention to herself.

But evidently she had 'fed on honey-dew and drunk the milk of Paradise' as my other world, Eng. Lit. Hons, put it, for the Sangam, Bhakti and modern poets sang and danced in her head.

Whom shall I thank for the happiness that seeped into my marrow and sustained me ever after? My father, who took me to concerts and bought season tickets for the Sangeet Sammelan; Vidwan KVN, lauded as the 'parfait, gentil knight' of the Carnatic world and all the musical stalwarts who caught and connected us by their excellence; teachers like Ms Vasuki, shy themselves, but with treasure to share? I guess many of us have such pathfinders who nudge us along to the golden halls, to the place where we then live.

Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture