I AM NOT THE SAME AFTER HAVING SEEN THE MOONSHINE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD" Mary Anne Radmacher
I found myself in a different country, on a different continent. Traveling on a road that I had never physically set foot on before. Yet it was so familiar, it was a road I’d been searching for, a road I’d spent a lifetime dreaming about.
I was joining more than ten thousand Indian pilgrims who were also journeying along this road. They were the pilgrims of Thaipoosam honoring the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a Vel "spear" so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. They walk every February in the light of the full moon.
I was the only Westerner, the only white face, yet I did not feel out of place. I was welcomed with such unguarded generosity. Indians delight so much in your presence that you actually feel you are contributing to the occasion. I find their spirit of giving to be boundless, immense and otherworldly. Despite witnessing a ritual so completely alien to my culture I felt a great affinity with those around me.
It was fast becoming one of the best nights of my life. Many factors contributed to this; the darkness, the moonlight, the heat that hung in the air after a day of Indian sun. The endorphins rushing through my body as we strode on at one heck of a pace. The sense of adventure, the creativity, the camaraderie. The dancing, the smiles, the laughter, the sense of purpose.
Some of the pilgrims carried a kadiviar, a physical burden through which they implored help from the God Murgan. This can range from a peacock feather to a vel spear pierced through each cheek. Earlier that day I had been present the ceremony when the piercing took place, I watched as the devotees, chanting and dancing, entered into a trance. The Vel spear is pushed, with some vigour, through the cheeks by the village priest and elder. Ash is dabbed and rubbed around the wound and the devotee then guided to a plastic chair to reorientate before his journey through the night.
My kadiviar was my camera. This was my act of devotion, the same camera which I have carried around the world in search of a moment of true connection. And this was it.
Every man and woman on that road shared a common goal. We were all embarking on our journey towards self-discovery. We may have been guided by the stars in the sky but we were searching for the stars within. Trying to find our personal place in the cosmos yet the presence of every other pilgrim made us fully aware that this fell among many other stars.
We moved along the road like a beautiful shimmering silk sari, every thread with its own intention, its destiny guided and supported by many other shining threads.
I felt as if the stars had fallen from the sky and entered our bodies exploding inside us like supernovas. As if each pilgrim had a radiant light glowing from within.
The elation and joy that exuded from the Indians was matched by my delight at finding myself walking alongside them. It was insane to believe that I was there, in sync, in step, so connected, so united. Yet, it wasn’t insane at all, everything in my life so far had lead me to this journey, this experience, this moment.
That rare and precious moment when the gap between your dreams and reality becomes so minuscule, so infinitesimal or even disappears altogether.
The pilgrimage reached its geographical end at, the Thiruchendur Mugar Temple on the seafront off the southeast coast of Tamil Nadu. The pilgrims yet again entered a trance state as the spears were extracted from their cheeks. Catharsis must be experienced. I put my camera down as a sense of well being flooded over me.
Such a sense of realisation is transient, fleeting, momentary. Yet we all felt it and something inside all of us had changed forever. Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.