A Spark of Potent Divine Love

I have been spending a good amount of mind time trying to understand what led up to the transformation of Karaikkal Ammaiyar - from a devoted house wife to a demon devotee.

This is not just a social transformation, this is a transformation at many levels which simply baffles me ... on what really happened. The recorded story and its dilutions just talks about her ability to muster up the power to acquire a mango from the Lord himself, (which is a super wow factor) but in reality it would have been quite something else to witness it.

We are talking about the period of 6th Century AD, a time when the Pallavas were the rising rulers in the South, and invasion from the Chalukyas was a regular feature. We are also talking about a period when Tantricism was on the rise, more as a chosen spiritual path than a ground for black magic (you have got to view this differently). Added to this is the social structure of not allowing the woman too much liberty. Belonging to a merchant class she was a devoted house wife and recorded history doesn’t talk about her being blessed with children. This is her broad external landscape.

Her internal landscape talks a completely different tale. An ardent devotee of Shiva, so powerful that she could request for anything and He would bless her with it. She clearly didn’t wish for much, had no inclination to wealth or materialism and from what circumstances have in store for her, her husband clearly didn’t match up. It is evident from recorded history that he left her and went, not because he fell for someone else but more because he got spooked out when she gave him a mango, out of nowhere. She couldn't help herself. He ruled the house and she was the obedient wife; he asked for a mango and she produced one out of nowhere. It triggered the start of change in her life as a house holder. It would have taken the next 5-7 years for her to realize that he had left her for good as we get to know he went to another town, got married and had a kid. And she waited this whole time, still devoted, hoping he would come back. The turmoil in her mind is unthinkable, given the simplicity of her life, sprinkled with spiritual overtones.

When she found him at last, she was in for one of the rudest shocks of her life. He didn't just cheat her, he was in a marriage with a child to boot. To see one's husband, whom she loved a lot (we assume), with another woman and a child still is a great shock to most people (time doesn’t count here, its emotion). What would she have gone through?

There were only two in her reality who received her devoted love - Her husband and Lord Shiva. Her world was complete between them when the jolt of letting go one of them came up. The most powerful abilities of a woman is to unconditionally and intensely love someone and endure any amount of pain for them. But that intense devotion also comes with a caveat. Should a woman be wronged, she gets what she wishes for and that can be a life changer, not just for her but for everyone around her. We see the most bewildering transformation in her case.

In her anger or her disappointment, or her sheer superior maturity and wisdom, she gave up what she held on to all her life. She had remained sensuously dress for the period her husband left her and she gave it up, probably in sheer disgust. The beaten track of marriage was taken away from her, not by the Lord but by the man who married her. He simply acknowledged he was not good enough for her and beat a hasty retreat. In sheer determination she gave up Grihasta, family, society, order, materialism, beauty, sensuousness - the world we call "normal living" - and opted for everything outside of it. The familiar world had no meaning left in her life.

Karaikkal Ammaiyar, transformed into an emaciated demon and inhabited the cremation ground. She chose a world where no human would bother her easily and devoted her world to Lord Shiva, the only one who really really stood by her. Devotion has a different meaning here, far more potent, far more intense and Karaikkal Ammaiyar proves to us that we can reach that pinnacle of love. Here is the twist in her story though. Her poetry describes her love for her Lord, love even among ghosts and ghouls. Love that is as intense and doesn't have to be sensuous alone. Love that knows no relationship, love that works magic.

She describes a cremation ground where creatures roam, creatures who have demonic attributes, feed on melting brains from bodies burning in the pyre... yes she is very graphic. She writes about a world that you and I don't have the courage to see. She talks about another realm, a parallel universe in the same relative space and time where other beings also inhabit the same planet we live in. What power did she possess that made her live with as much ease in a deadly dark world of ghosts as she lived in a marriage? Karaikkal Ammaiyar went through a transformation neither you nor I can stomach. It was her sheer determination that either transported her to that world, or transformed her while blessing her with the divine vision (divya dristi) to sit in a regular cremation ground and still view all the different realms at play at the same time.

Temple walls depict her playing the cymbals as Ma Kali dances with Lord Shiva Nataraja in Urdhva Nataraja pose. Karaikkal Ammaiyar's poetry talks extensively about the world of ghosts in the middle of whom the great Lord dances. And yet, our version of Karaikkal  Ammaiyar's life appears so simple and naive! Why did recorded history not give us the actual facts, explicitly for us to realize that Karaikkal Ammaiyar's life speaks of human transformation, and the sheer ability of a woman to do so?

Why are we so incapable that we cannot look through all this to understand that spiritualism works best outside of social order? Why are we so scared that we cannot take a step away from safe haven? Why are we so useless that we happily settle for a million lives of suffering than take up one life to have the determination to look at the truth in the face and transform. She did it, we can! We just don't want to! Seriously, we need to get those grey cells working.

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A Dance with the Divine Mother

Shiva Nataraja dances for Karaikkal Ammaiyar

I have lived and I have wondered all the time, what's the real point of this life. I don't see much sense in it. I just move from one whirlpool of human interaction to another, how does it help me. I get moralistic messages every morning advising me on how I should lead my life but isn't all this just a bunch of points of view? What is the real truth?

I am currently floored by one person, always been her admirer but now there is even deeper regard for her. The demon devotee of Lord Shiva, once a devoted wife to a man, but fate had other plans for her. Her life is about her transformation from a woman bound by social rule to her release into the darkness of the cremation ground seeking her enlightenment. How ironical is that, that she entered her blissful world in a place we consider "damned".

Karaikkal Ammaiyar taught me the existence of a world that is without bias, where every being, human or animal needs to be respected because they are a version of the supreme, just like me. She also taught me that Bhakti knows no gender. She taught me a strange kind of freedom, one that all of us fear, but well, since I have had a wind of it, I WANT IT. 

Through her journey I asked a few basic questions. How do looks matter? How does age matter? How does gender matter? How does race matter? How does education matter? How does wealth matter? How does ego matter?... when am going to discard all these eventually in my spiritual journey. The great Mother, the Ammaiyar of Karaikkal, sings her songs to the great lord, not in love as we know it but in divine adoration. She doesn't apply a relationship to her love. She doesn't call herself a lover or a slave. She is just devoted, period. If we ever understand the truth beyond relationship, we stand a chance towards emancipation. 

I have had deep moments of frustration, just attempting to answer "What is the purpose of my life". This has been the single most hard hitting question I have not yet found an answer to. And my inadequacy lolls it's ugly head out at me...all the time. What is it that am doing wrong which I need to fix to move on in my spiritual career. My regular life has hardly been an issue. Am not trying to scale greater heights in materialism because I simply lost interest in it. I have just one point of concentration and a few jobs to complete before I call it quits. And hence, I have made my rules, my world, my universe inside my head, geared to see me complete my tasks. 

The Ammaiyar of Karaikkal has called on me, by stepping into my mind in the form of thoughts. She is my guest, seated at the center of my thoughts in a profound conversation on living, on death and on the in between world in blissful adoration of the Lord. 

In the fires of the cremation ground
That light up the mystical stage
A sacred ground where life meets death
Face to face, the great Lord dances in Ananda

Time freezes into non existence
A different world erupts
And devotees from all realms
Come to witness a vigor of consciousness 

Space has a different meaning
Its secret hosts different dimensions
Different realms that we don't know
Even exist deep within ourselves

The beat of the drum
The rhythm of the cymbal
The echo of the damaru
Oh watch Him dance

I am but a part of Him
I am but a part of her
I am but a lost speck of dust
Blown away by time, by illusion

Oh wasted me
What depth of bliss is this
That makes me fear nothing
That makes me want to quit

The great Mother sings
The great Lord dances
Am I spiritually handicapped
To dismiss this bliss, to sink into oblivion?

Photo courtesy: arjuna-vallabha.tumblr.com via Pinterest