Nataraja Visits Amma in Washington
Trip Start Jun 03, 2008
13Trip End Sep 08, 2008
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This is the story of how Lord Nataraja came to visit Amma on her tour when she came to Washington DC.
"Every object-whether it be an animal, a plant, a human being, a world, a universe or a thought-undergoes the process of creation, sustenance and destruction at every moment. Lord Shiva represents the destruction principle. In the Puranas, the end of a cycle of creation is mythologized by Nataraja (a name for Lord Shiva meaning "the King of Dance") doing his dance of destruction. Death of a flower-bud is the birth of a flower. Death of flower is the birth of its seed."
More information on Nataraja who at the Amma program manifested through music and dance in a magnificient and energetic way. So read on to learn the details and check out a free mp3 audio download below.
It started out ordinary enough . . .
The Washington DC Amma program had a mellow energy to it even though there were many people and an overflow area had to be created in the snack area so people could watch Amma giving darshan on big screens. Amma was given a warm welcome in Washington DC and it was a nice atmosphere. I worked at the Amrita TV desk again and talked to people in the snackbar and dining room about Amrita TV.
The Washington DC program was a time of reunions for me. Members of the Asheville, NC satsang came up and I stayed with my friend Naveen, Feather, and little Jasmine. Naveen was one of my bhajan guitar students who enjoyed the lessons so well he began writing his own bhajans!
It was great to see everybody and it was also terrific to have creature comforts like an actual sofa bed to sleep in. Yahoo! Hooray for creature comforts! Everyone was fascinated with the parking crew bhajan CD that was recorded in San Ramon. Below you can see a picture of little Jasmine enjoying her milk while listening to my rendition of "Ganga Ginta" that I played for Amma.
First I go to the laundry facility in the hotel and this Muslim family gets there just seconds before me and insists they need all the washers to do a bunch of clothes for the family. Fine, I come back several times and finally they are done, but now devotees staying in the hotel discovered the facilities and started their laundry so all washers and dryers were in use again. Ugh. I went back to the hotel room and passed out on one of the chairs there with all the lights on, never even made it to the bed!
I woke up to find that it was already early morning and the pada puja rehearsal was just a few hours away. I was at my wits end and very frustrated. I was able to get the clothes in the washer but that's about it.
Fortunately my friend Naveen bailed me out (horray!) and lent me a nice silk shirt to wear that was just beautiful. Naveen's partner, Feather took pity on me and gave me a blueberry doughnut.
I never made it to the 8:30am rehearsal though, just couldn't get there. I did make it into the hall eventually though and started relaxing once I got in the environment. Whew. Sigh. Cry.
Then it was about time for Amma to come into the hall and all of us began assembling for the pada puja. I received impromptu pada puja etiquette training from Lakshmi the same nice woman who I assited in Chicago with making a curtain for Amma's Devi Bhava tent!
The pada puja is a ceremony that is done whenever a divine being like Amma enters a place to give darshan. It consists of people placing sandalwood paste and kumkum on Amma's feet, people performing Arati (waving the candle flame in adoration), and garlanding Amma with a large flower garland. Amma showers the devotees doing Arati with flower petals and gives hugs after the Arati. The pada puja I participated in is an abrievated version of a longer more elaborate celebration when done as the main event. The link above has some good images to give you the idea.
My job was simple: hold up the tray of flower petals for Amma. It was beautiful not only because of the flower petals but because I was so close to Amma and her radiance.
In Washington DC, I continued the illustrious tradition I began in Chicago of playing bhajans for the crowd in the token line waiting to get their tokens to see Amma. It started out ok and people began to warm up to it. Then however, it was determined that I was in the way and was relegated to a corner over behind a shoe rack. Fine. I would play shoe rack bhajans then. (Humor)
As I continued playing a nice thing happened: A mandolin player came out of nowhere and joined in! For some time we played together. One thing was really cool: we played a haunting version of the bhajan "Omkar Guru Ma Omkar" in Eminor complete with delicate mandolin tremolos.
Then suddenly, the unexpected happened: A member of the token staff asked if I would come and play for the people at the back of the token line who were getting bored?! Well of course I would! That's what I was there for!
I went toward the back of the line near the staff room and some potted plants and began to play. Some hindu ladies really started paying attention and enjoying the music especially my rendition of Hari Bol (from the 2006 bhajanamritam supplement) I saw their lips moving as they sang along softly. It made my heart happy because I worked so hard on that song in 2007, listening to it over-and-over many times, memorizing the words and then finally (by Amma's grace) figuring out the chords on the guitar.
Then my friends from Chicago showed up with a cart hawking the legendary veggie wraps. Yes indeed veggie wraps! So I went into my impromptu veggie wraps song in A major. Everyone cracked up and many people bought veggie wraps. The veggie wraps guy even got into the music and made up some of his own lyrics!
I played a couple more bhajans and then the food crew showed up again, but this time with bondas and samosas, so on the spot I composed a mellow smooth jazz tune extolling the virtues and yumminess of samosas and bondas! This went on for some time, and the token line became transformed from a boring "wait-forever-for-your-token" drudgery to a happenin' lively café scene.
Speaking of food the devotees in the kitchen who prepare the food, chop the veggies, serve the food and so on don't get enough credit. All through the tour the food was consistently excellent and the service terrific. Whether you are talking about the western food line or the Indian food line. . . all delicious and all good. The text wrap didn't go too well on this one folks so scroll down!
All the devotees enjoyed dinner at the Washington DC program.
Sangita Devi at the Namaste Yoga studio.
The children had phun.
Little Jasmine poses as Kali Ma in her Amma outfit while her mother Devika looks on.
Ashley, Aela, and Jeremy had a delightful family meal.
Hours and darshans passed and it was Devi Bhava evening. I was signed up for holy water seva. One of the components of the Devi Bhava is Atma puja. All who are able to sit are organized in rows facing each other. Amma does a blessing of the water and then the water is distributed to the people on large trays filled with small plastic containers of the blessed water. Most of the water sevites are assigned rows of people to serve but my assignment was more free-form: go to the back of the hall and serve those who did not get water or who were missed.
I'm always glad that she blesses the water and shows reverence for it (and all of life for that matter). It helps not only those drinking the water but the water itself. It is beautiful to see her do the blessing and I hope on some level, however sub-conscious people will pause to understand how precious water is. We use it for so many things from drinking to power generation, but who really pauses to pay attention to it much less show any kind of respect and giving love and thanks to water is largely unheard of.
Ask any casual observer on the street and they will tell you that the chemical composition of water is "H20" but who really sees water for the consciousness and intelligence that it is? Who really sees water as a life form all unto itself? Not many. A few metaphysicians, a few conscious people, a handful of researchers. Most of who are dismissed by established science as so much new age hullabaloo.
I hope more people will come to understand the necessity of praying for to and through water and will wake up and protect this valuable resource from further pollution and compromise. I so much enjoy the work of researchers like Dr. Emoto who has shown the impact of thought, emotion and music on water in books like The hidden messages in water and others.
Based on my understanding of Dr. Emoto's research on how emotion, thought and music impact water I have come to believe that love directed to for and through water goes out not only to the person near the water but to all bodies of water and all things containing water everywhere.
This brings me back to Amma. If the above theory is correct then when Amma blesses the water in the Atma puja ceremony this blessing is indeed huge. It goes out to all beings everywhere not only those receiving the water as part of the puja. It goes out to the executive drinking coffee in the coffeehouse, it goes out to the mother-to-be and her developing baby, it goes out to all the acquatic creatures in the ocean it goes out in the mist rising from the earths many lakes, falls as gentle rain on so many mountain peaks, and flows down on a network of streams into the ocean.
Here is a prayer we can all say and teach to the children. When holding a container of water say:
Water we love you
Water we bless you
Water we thank you
Even when in a hurry it is easy to grasp a beverage and say "I love you, thanks!"
This can be done knowing that this love and thanksgiving goes out to all molecules of water everywhere traveling at the speed of thought.
So on to the excitement! Nataraja is coming . . .
Devi Bhava night was packed with people and performances. Some great Wisdom Women singing native American songs filled the hall at the beginning of the evening. Beautiful sentiments filled the air of a people and their reverence for the land. Wah did a nice series of songs also.
Our local satsang group was scheduled to play but we got rescheduled to much later in the evening. A "nationally known" kirtan artist was assigned our spot and played an extra long set. However, when it came time for our little satsang group to play we were given only 13minutes. 13minutes!
It just seems to me (if I can rant here only briefly) that the "pros" are given the big time slots at the Amma programs and the satsangs many of whom have prepared all year at bhajan practice after bhajan practice are given short shrift.
Hopefully in the future this will be corrected and the local satsangs will be given more respect. This said, what we did came out was wonderful even in the short period of time we had.
Samita did an abriviated version of Jai Ma and I contributed some guitar licks. Although the abrieviated version is nice when the song is allowed to develop naturally it has an even greater magic.
I contributed a satsang favorite "Nataraja" a song extolling Lord Nataraj also known as "The cosmic dancer" this is the dancing form of Siva who dances in a ring of fire holding the damaru dancing the whole universe into being and folding it into dissolution.
-------------------- CLICK BELOW TO HEAR THE NATARAJA MP3 COOL MUSIC --------------------
A spirited compliment of drums was added and the tune was up and running. I started out with some mello arpegiations on the guitar. The excitement began to build. The drums kicked in and the tempo increased.
As the song gathered momentum out in the audience a group of hippie dancers formed led by perm-a-grin Dave.
I let it all hang out and held nothing back.
The song kicked into overdrive and my voice went up an octave; the dancers went into trance dance mode: an undulating throng absorbed in divine bliss. The song reached its presto non presto finale complimented by shouts of "Nataraja ki jai! Nataraja ki jai!" (Translation: victory to Lord Nataraj)
The song ended as it had begun: the melo arpegiations on the guitar and my voice softening like so many flower petals falling.
Shiva in his form as Nataraja had manifested through the musicians, the singers, and the dancers bringing all assembled into the present moment, into a place of release and healing.