Friday, September 19, 2008

Dancing With Shiva, Part 15

Most of us have a tendency to be self-centered, to think of the moon and the sun and the stars revolving around the patch of earth on which we stand. Some boast about living in the greatest city, or in the greatest country, all other countries being mere satellites.

About 35 years ago, some sarcastic vandal climbed up one of the big green exit signs along Interstate 70 just south of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and spray-painted "CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE" beneath the words, "Arnold City." I'd smile every time I passed this graffiti for 15 years until the sign was replaced.

Chidambaram's claim, however, produced no chuckle. You would not find it so laughable, either, if you were plopped down on the other side of Earth in a strange and ancient temple; if you looked upon the figure of the dancing Shiva, felt taken in by his many arms, entranced by his casual beauty; if you touched his bronze skin, the color of the ocean under an overcast sky, made smooth by so many millions of caresses over a thousand years; if you felt its perpetual warmth for a thousand years of hot Indian days; if you sensed your own self-destructive tendencies in your mental dance with the sensuous Destroyer.

I said that I left that temple wiser than when I'd entered it. I went in thinking that I was living in the most important time, as part of the most advanced and enlightened civilization, living in the greatest country and under the greatest government the world has ever known. I came out thinking how old human history really is, and how many enlightened civilizations have risen and fallen, and how much power has been used and abused to subjugate people, how vast is the universe and how far from its center we must be, and how insignificant our existence is in the great march of Time.

I had walked in as a snob, touring a land I thought of as pitiful and backward. When I walked out, I would not see India that way again, nor view the world that way. I did not realize that at the time. It would not hit me until a few days later.

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