Dancing the Dark Away
Shambhavi’s first dance class went as well as could be expected at the Waldmeer Warriors. After Farkas’s recent passing, Ide remembered the Manipura Dancers of Prana Community. She had not been there for years but contacted them through Merlyn. Shambhavi was sent as the new dance teacher.
“Thank you for a wonderful class,” said Shambhavi. “It’s been a pleasure to work with you.”
He knew that these initial classes would be make or break for such a small, insular town as Waldmeer. He brought out all his charm to try and gently win them over. Although he was way over qualified for such a class, he wanted to use the opportunity to build a bridge between Waldmeer and Prana Community. The former had always been deeply suspicious of the latter. Besides,Shambhavi not only loved to dance, he also loved to teach and he was a natural at both.
“If anyone would like to join us for Mahashivratri tonight,” said Shambhavi, “you would be very welcome.”
Prana Community was nondenominational, but it celebrated many of the Hindu traditions of Bob Owens’s Indian guru. Shivratri is the darkest night of the lunar month as it immediately precedes the new moon. In the same way that the moon affects the tides, its gravitational pull affects other water forms, including the water in us. Mahashivratri is the most important Shivratri of the year. There is a natural upsurge of energy due to the position of the planets. It is honoured as the night when Shiva danced the darkness away. The idea is to stay awake all night, in an upright position, so that the spine is straight. To aid the night-long wakefulness, there is generally a mixture of meditation, talks, and party-like, exuberant celebration.
The normal monthly performances of the Manipura Dancers were always scheduled for either the new moon (Shivratri) or full moon. It depended on what they felt their focus needed to be. If they wanted to concentrate on physical and mental activation, positivity, life-force, the beginning of various projects, or to improve health and vitality, they used the full moon nights. They joked that the full moon brought out the madness in them all. Although it was a joke, there was some truth in it. Creation, of any sort, needs a little bit of madness. If they needed more introspection, healing, inner-work, and alignment, they used the new moon (Shivratri) nights.
“Even though Mahashivratri is the darkest night,” said Shambhavi, “we don’t focus on the darkness. We look towards the coming light. We’ll have a midnight meditation at Ajna Temple and the rest of the night, we’ll be singing and dancing.” He added with a sparkling smile, “It’s a party! Just like Shiva, we dance the dark away.” Seeing the unconvinced looks on his student’s faces he added, “It’s fun.”
Shambhavi didn’t tell them about the extensive, personal preparations that Prana Community members, including Merlyn, had already been undergoing. There had been days of intermittent fasting, chanting, meditation, and preparing the body, mind, and heart for the blessings of the night. The most significant preparation was the Pancha Bhuta Kriya. It was essentially a process of integrating the body with the fundamental aspects of existence. It included:
- Abhaya Sutra (yellow, cotton thread dipped in turmeric paste) worn for a mandala period of forty days. It was tied around the wrist and knotted three times. After the mandala period, it was carefully removed, without cutting, and either tied on to a flowering tree or dug into the earth.
- Vastram (black, cotton shawl with Tamil writing) worn during meditation sessions.
- Bhoomi (prepared grains of soil) eaten during one of the meditations.
- Vibhuti (holy ash which came from the guru’s Indian temple) used for rubbing on the chakra points.
- The five elements of earth, water, wind, fire, and space were observed in particular ways. The residents of Prana Community normally lived hand-in-hand with nature, however, they deliberately deepened their connection during Mahashivratri. They walked barefoot in the sand and on the forest soil. They drank water from copper containers with attentive reverence for its life-sustaining purpose. They swam in the sea (sometimes naked – but this was a contentious point for some). They went for long cliff walks while the wind blasted their troubles away. They stared at the fire of their sacramental candles and open fireplaces. They frequently acknowledged the incomprehensible, vast beauty of the space around and above them.
The Hindu traditions may seem foreign to those of other religious cultures but most religions are full of rituals, drama, costumes, use of the elements (particularly, fire and water), and stories. A full-on Catholic Mass could rival any Hindu celebration with its culture and theatre. Humans are essentially story-tellers and drama-performers. It helps them connect to their right-brain functions of creativity, emotion, intuition, imagination, expression, and innovative thinking.
Without the preparations, Mahashivratri was a shadow of itself. A lot of its power came from them. Nevertheless, many visitors, with no preparation whatsoever, came to benefit from and enjoy the festival. Merlyn had seen that Ben and Esther were on the list of expected visitors. Traditionally, on Mahashivratri, unmarried Hindu women pray for a husband like Shiva, who is considered to be the ideal husband. Merlyn mumbled that she didn’t need a husband; Shiva or not. She mentally braced for Ben and Esther’s visit with the prayer that she wished no one harm and could, in no way, be affected adversely by other people’s decisions or life choices. Along with the earth, water, wind, fire, and space, it was a mighty prayer. Was it enough? Possibly not, but Merlyn knew that without opportunities to grow, we don’t.
After the dance class, that morning, Ide said to Merlyn, “It’s exciting to be visiting Prana Community tonight for Mahashivratri. I’ll try and talk Gabriel into coming with me.”
“Who is Gabriel?” asked Merlyn.
“He’s my friend from many years ago,” said Ide.
As forty-years-olds, Ide and Amira were close friends and their little circle included Amira’s partner-at-that-time, Gabriel, and Ide’s-partner-at-that-time, Farkas.
“When I was with Farkas,” said Ide, “we were friends with Amira and her on-again, off-again partner, Gabriel. I say we,” smiled Ide, “but Farkas didn’t really befriend anyone much. A few chosen ones; that was it. He had a sort of love-hate relationship with Amira, and I don’t think he cared much for Gabriel.” For a moment, she looked sad to remember that Farkas was no longer on the hill, but picked herself up and said, “Gabriel needs a home until he re-establishes himself and I need the company.”
Word had soon spread, in Waldmeer, that the reclusive but respected man-on-the-hill, Farkas, had unexpectedly died. Further, Gabriel, the artist who had lived and worked in the area and then mysteriously disappeared more than twenty years ago, was back. Apparently, his return to Waldmeer was prompted by the death of Amira (originally Maria, daughter of local fisherman, Lenny). She hadn’t been seen for even longer than Gabriel.
Malik’s house was more than full when not only Gabriel turned up to relay the sad news of Malik’s mother’s passing but, before the day was done, the travelling trio of Maria, Rybert, and Odin also arrived. Malik’s sorrow at losing his mother, Faith-Amira, was softened by his joy at the safe return of his daughter, Maria. Reconnecting with Odin, Malik’s childhood guru from the Great Valley, was an added emotional surprise. The house was indeed full and full of personalities. Rybert stayed one night and then was more than happy to get back to Wurt Wurt Koort, whereupon Tom was more than happy to get back to his life in the city.
It didn’t take Gabriel long to decide on taking up the offer, from Ide, to stay at her house. It was much quieter than Malik’s house and he was drawn to the creative energy in Ide’s home. Also, as Ide was an old friend of Amira’s, he felt it was a safe place to recover from Amira’s passing and to restart his life on Earth. He had already decided to take up his former passion of art. Although Ide was happy to have Gabriel’s company, she wasn’t Amira. She didn’t love Gabriel like Amira. The friendship between Ide and Gabriel was one that both would have to work at if they were going to be compatible housemates.
When Ide asked Gabriel about going to Mahashivratri, he said that he had already had the darkest night of the year. However, having little to lose and wanting to invest in a new start, he decided to go, anyway.