The stars may be immutable in their vast trajectories across the heavens but at the quotidian level long-held practices may need a little adjustment. Case in point: the widely popular Navratri Festival, literally ‘nine nights,’ was actually held over eight nights this year. Unlike the leap year phenomenon, which I never really understood, but blindly accept, one night didn’t actually ‘disappear.’ Rather, two astrological conjunctions, which normally occur over two consecutive days, this year happened within a single twenty-four-hour period. Ergo, we had eight instead of nine nights. Nobody minded and not a living soul (eight hundred million strong) thought to call this year’s festival “Ashtaratri.” Why split hairs?
The tenth day is called Vijayadasami (literally ‘victory on the tenth’), this joyous celebration of good over evil, when the goddess slays the demon. “Vijayanavami,” actually, this year, but then, who am I?
Everyone will have their own tale of happinesses, large or small, of this period when auspiciousness suffuses the very air we breathe. Mine can be shown in a single snapshot.
Wandered into Sri Ramanasramam on Vijayadasami. The elaborate rituals are all over. A long stream of devotees file slowly by the magnificently decorated idol of the goddess. As a life-long backbencher, I remain true to form and bring up the rear. God, it’s beautiful. Decide to take a picture. Begin shooting.
Along comes Sundaram, mellow head of this venerable institution, to quietly offer his pranams to the deity. I’ve been displaced from my customary end-of-the-line position, but that observation came later. What happened in the moment was something else. “Why don’t you go there?” he asks gently, pointing to the other side of the altar. Now, I’m always open to suggestions, but the reason I was on this side of the altar was precisely to stay out of everybody’s way, not to mention abjuring any positions of privilege which generally felt more uncomfortable than desirable. “You can go that side,” he offers again. Like an environmentally unfriendly fluorescent light, it takes a second or two for my brain to process the message. I switch sides.
Now I’m on this side looking at Sundaram, and he’s on that side looking at me. Of course, this is the position from which to photograph this gorgeous scene. I knew that. It’s a case of shooting oneself in the foot instead of shooting for the stars. Luckily for me, he knew better, and acted on it.
And then Sundaram’s face lights up with a dazzling smile.