The Temple Closure

A fable poem.

*   *   *   *   *

Late last night, a nameless wild white tigress cub enters,
madly gallops about smashing the statues.
Awoken by the sounds, the head priest runs
and prods her with but a stick and shouts,
“Asaadhunaa asaadhunaa asaadhunaa!
Shame shame shame!”
The cub knows not his words nor his language,
she hisses and growls, but our Vishal does not relent.
She senses a power in him unlike the others,
she did not yet know it was not his own,
and it stops her rakshasi demonness rampage.
She steals away into the night.

Vishal inventories the damage:
one by one by one by one by one,
every statue in each sanctum shattered.
He finds soft prayers rising in his heart
to the Great Goddess Durga,
imploring her—
Let me not dream you forsake me,
may you be with me always, always.
Please o please, Mother of the Universe,
you know the work of this temple
is the one love that calls me,
the one that I am called to give.
I am not much for all else in this world.
Through loving you, You have made
my heart, my spirit, and the place at my side
into sacred spaces—
all now empty, waiting, for you to fill.
So now would you please come.
Please come please come please come…”
Exhaustion collapses him into a fervent dreamless sleep.

At dawn, Vishal convenes the temple’s Board
in the temple’s courtyard under the cool morning sun,
he imagines to share his plan to handle the repairs.
Instead on hearing the story and seeing the wreckage,
demands arise from their shock and despair—
“Why bother, if this demon cub is still on the loose??” they say:
Maybe the priest’s prodding and shouting were enough to keep her at bay.
Maybe a tall wall must be built and an intrepid guard employed.
Maybe the zoo sends their top tamer to give her the life of an imprisoned toy.
Maybe the lancers are called in to hunt and finish her.
Maybe her elders sensed mischief’s portent, led her away with them.
Maybe the temple closes indefinitely.

Maybe after she left, the cub goes under cover of night
as she did each day before to her perch on the nearest hill.
There, she intently eyes her now smashed temple:
the day’s first light glancing through leaves,
glistening the gopuram tower,
now the priest locking the gates
with a sign she cannot read: closed for repair.
The freshly washed faithful with flowers coming
and then going, crestfallen, darshanless,
the redolent grief of the barefoot laborer
wheelbarrowing the shattered statues away,
the priests uncomfortably lounging on mats
trying with no luck to sleep away this day,
in the trees above, the monkeys cackling their agita
seeing the kitchen shut with no food to steal,
amidst an ever rising and falling din
of chatter and shouting weighty with lament.

Surya draws across the sky as this cub sits observing the temple.
Sensing their shock, sadness, confusion, despair, anger,
She dreams of her temple visitation,
Unable to know what made her do it.
At first, it was just play,
then it became something much more—
A fury, a rage, a demonstration, a vengeance.
Sitting so still, watching the flow of the temple’s life broken,
she senses the connectedness of it all.
So different today than all the other days she perched here,
something new stirs her chest and swells in her throat.
A toxic feeling mix of Love and Death,
her head hangs low, when she leaves her perch as the sun sets
As she moves but slowly, a distinct, painful knowing —
something very very foolish has been done…

She nears the drinking hole,
a tear wells in her big cub eye,
She looks down through more tears,
sees her own rakshasi demonness face looking back.
Softening, one lone drop runs down her pink wet nose and falls,
Shimmering hypnotic circular waves visible by moonlight.
Lost in grief at her own misdeed,
staring down into the black water,
she does not see when above her,
the Goddess of the Universe herself, Durga Ma,
appears, solid as you or I, in the flesh,
hovering on an enormous lotus bud.
A long time has passed when the cub finally looks up,
sees the vermillion and gold sari and Her ten terrific arms,
startled, she crouches into a frozen stare of abject retreat,
Her luminous light unlike anything she’s known.
Durga Ma locks on her scared wide eyes,
gazes at her as if drinking in the ocean.
The tigress cub is thirsty for this water,
fear melts, replaced by a warm golden light
centered between her eyes.

Gently, Durga Ma begins a song celestial,
“My daughter, knowing now what you have done,
your throat quivers, heart breaks, shame dries your senses.
Now you need fear and worry and hurt no more,
for I grant you release of all that has passed.
For it is I who have made you
into a fierce, brokenhearted cub,
to make you worthy to stride aloft
as we smash the legions of demon kings.
Rise now, rise, for my tigress shall be You.”

She knows Durga Ma’s words already.
She had heard them before in a future life.
As Ma sings, the light in her grows to her entire length
a peace she never knew comes into to her.
Her heart softens, her throat opens, her aliveness returns.
For a moment, the cub prances jubilant circles chasing her own tail.

As Ma’s verse ends, a pregnant still enters the air,
Ma’s gaze steady on the cub,
the cub’s gaze steady on Her,
Ma calls, “Sravi, come to me!”
And Sravi moves, sensing herself
under a power no longer her own,
she bows her head gently at Ma’s feet.
Gliding off Her lotus, Durga Ma goes to her and mounts
Sravi, balanced perfectly with both legs to her side—
Sravi rises, and in this moment knows,
She is a tigress, no more a cub.

Together they fly to the village as all sleep,
stopping first at the laborers’ hut,
into Ma’s sari, in a swift magical motion,
the Goddess silk holds every shard of broken statue
carted away in the barrow,
on to the temple they ride.
Making a silent approach by moonlight,
in the distance the head priest sleeps across the entrance,
so valiant to guard the temple with his life,
clutching to his chest a heavy long curved club,
ready with a far stronger prod than the night prior.
Sensing their coming, he awakens,
seeing at first only the tigress as she comes close,
he lunges at her with his club,
and she darts just out of his reach.
Just then his eyes catch a curious light above him,
and She appears.

Falling to his knees before Her in awe,
all anger fear and sorrow leave him, perhaps forever.
She gazes back, unfurls Her sari.
The broken statues,
now all but one miraculously perfect,
hover in the air.
She gestures him to inspect the statues
each now coated in gold—save one.
Dazzled he stands slowly and walks to that one black idol,
tenderly lifts his club, placing it in the center of the statue’s face—
a bright light now coats that too gold.
He begins whispering inwardly
Om gam ganapataye namaha
Om gam ganapataye namaha
Om gam ganapataye namaha

As his now golden Ganesha
glides through the air to his sanctum.

Then each remaining golden statue flies under Durga Ma’s power
one by one by one by one by one
to their thrones.
And when the last one sits,
Sravi slowly draws near Vishal,
looking up at him with her now soft tigress gaze
for a long moment, wordlessly,
I’m sorry, I knew not what I did,
I am no longer the nameless, mad, empty one
who smashed all this.
Durga Ma has saved me.
I am Sravi, her mount.
And we have come to restore you.

Vishal hears her unspoken truth,
cannot help but forgive.
She comes to his side,
he gently strokes her with affection.
And begins to cry in silent joy at this great boon,
this miracle, the statues restored,
the demon cub transformed,
his beloved Goddess in this very temple.
Durga Ma floats down
and embraces him from just above.
She whispers,
My beloved Son, my beloved Son, my beloved Son…

When an infinite moment of Divine Love passes,
Vishal looks up at Durga Ma,
and nods his head once to the side and back
with a slight smile and new twinkle in his eye—
I am healed, whole, complete.
He rises from his embrace
and lies before her in pranam.
Forehead down on the cool stone,
outstretched hands together in prayer,
He asks Her
O Mother,
please heal all the beings of this world,
as you have restored me,
may we all be.
as you have restored me,
may we all be.
as you have restored me,
may we all be.

Lost in mantra, he does not see
as Durga Ma again mounts Sravi
they stride together to the bright empty space
at the temple’s epicenter.
Vishal’s eyes open when a bright golden light
presses on lids of eyes closed in prayer.
Light bathes Durga and Sravi ever brighter.
He must look away it is so bright.

When the darkness returns, He looks back,
and there is astonishment:
a glorious new golden statue sits of Durga Ma,
as She just was in the flesh,
yet now sitting only upon a delicate golden lotus leaf,
She has finally come to stay,
Love and Mischief sparkle her eyes.
Vishal beholds her with disbelief,
falls to his knees before Her.
After a long moment of drinking in Her loving darshan gaze,
he realizes, Sravi is not with Her,
where has she gone?
Where? Where? Where?

Alarmed, he looks all through the temple,
and cries out into the dark,
but she is not to be seen.
Maybe she was not meant to stay
and went back living in the wild.
Maybe this is all a long hot dream and I will wake up.
Maybe this is all too much.
At the temple gate, he sits to cry.
Tears of grief and joy at once gather and don’t spill out.

Then a soft nuzzling at his ear,
Sravi rests her tigress head in his lap—
the one to be in the sacred space by his side has come.
Vishal is content, complete as he looks down at her cat eyes,
when a blinding light comes between them.
then dissipates as quickly as it came,
Sravi has become the fairest bride he ever saw,
blue eyes and long chestnut brown trusses,
an elegant woman’s body,
filled with all the grace and power of a tigress.
A tigress no more—
he draws her to him.
Their bond seals with an eternal embrace.

The Board takes a vote:
A grand festival is arranged.
All are fed, given silks, and a raucous troupe
brings an all-night temple musical theatre,
a great wedding is celebrated,
before Durga Ma.
All are delighted..

Vishal and Sravi
live out their many years
in a simple, clean, inviting home
built for them adjoining the temple,
and traveling through the all the lands,
taking in the lonesome elderly
and the sick and lost children,
spreading solace and delight to all they touch,
holding all with the divine tenderness
with which Durga Ma embraced them,
inspiring countless homes and ashrams and orphanages,
and living out a long extraordinary life together—
celebrated each year
with a grand festival featuring
an elaborate drama and musical play,
the priests stealing away all the statues of the temple,
from their altars for one night,
coated in black ash,
taken out of the temple on a grim procession,
during which all gathered follow, wailing laments,
then arriving back in the temple courtyard,
great heartfelt prayers to Durga Ma,
and statues  are made to reappear,
and in the midst of blinding fireworks,
water run over them to reveal their golden forms,
each lovingly reinstalled in their abode,
then all the weddings in the land are consecrated,
and a feast and dance and racous music,
and a resplendent dramatic recounting
of this very tale, lasting until dawn:
Vishal and Sravi revered forever after
as the long-lived guardians
of the forest temple of the great golden Durga,
he Her priest householder
she Her tigress maiden.

*   *   *   *   *

The End.

*   *   *   *   *


  • Live audio recording (12 min, 4.4MB) of reading at the NAPAWF Open Mic at the Potter’s House, Washington, DC. May 29, 2015.
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