Intermission music still quietly and unobtrusively plays in the background of the story of the Mountains, Motorcycles, and Madmen. I will return to that story soon.
I must take this moment instead to share profound (to me) insights.
On the eve of my first symbolic “marriage” ceremonial dance to Jaganath and after having finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Committed,” I desire to share the precipice I find myself perched upon. A perch where much contemplation has taken place. Much contemplation about the nature of sacrifice and union.
This morning, bright and early after another exhausting day of rehearsal, I participated in a ceremony that brought the reality of my choices and my sacrifices tumbling to the floor at my feet. Quite literally.
This auspicious day began with our Guruji ceremonially tying on our gungaroo (ankle bells). We stood above and before him as he sat in front of our altar to Jaganath, freshly doused with lovely garlands of flowers and festoons of fruit. The gesture of having an accomplished and celebrated Guru of Odissi sitting at my feet (which were thankfully newly scrubbed and oiled) was both humbling and reflective. I experienced the world slow and time pause as I gazed deep into the reflecting pool of my own soul. Tears came flooding to my eyes as I stood in my best sari finally grasping that I was here.
After the pain, the separations, the frustrations, the worries, the miracles, the stress, the moments of hopelessness, the tears, and the sheer force of will it took to get here. To this moment, to this ritual, this communal acknowledgment of commitment, my symbolic marriage to Lord Jaganath. My gungaroos acting as the marriage bands encapsulating my ankles. Reminding me of the sacrifices I have made and those that my dear loved ones have made on my behalf for me to be here.
The moment I tie on my gungaroos and walk on stage, I enter into this sacred union. This vow of commitment. Not just the commitment of dance for the pleasure of my godly “husband,” but a recognition of my commitment and devotion to myself. As one worthy of exposing her heart on a stage full of love, full of tenderness. Secure in the knowledge that I am dancing a private dance. An intimate dance for my Beloved. My Beloved spirit, witnessed by hundreds of audience members.
I did not come here searching for love, but I found it. I found it in devotion. I found it in being able to trust so completely again. Trust in something eternal. Something that cannot be betrayed. My feet against the Earth and my eyes to the sky. Love for my movement within space. Love for my dance.
I am free. Unfettered by the sacrifices that the women in my family have made for me to be here. Often sacrifices manifested in very real marriages. I will dace this devotional dance as a prayer and a thank you to the three women who have inspired me from the beginning to follow my heart and follow my feet. The women who have shaped the woman I strive to become. The women who may not have chosen to come to India to dance in a temple to an invisible “husband,” who most likely do not understand why I have, but who nonetheless lend me their love, support, and enthusiasm at the opportunities I never seize to reach for.
My Mother, my Mother’s Mother, and my Father’s Mother.
It feels momentous to acknowledge your sacrifice on the eve of my symbolic marriage. Sacrifices as amazingly strong women, mothers, and individuals. You have provided me with the examples of how fearless women stride through life with grace and heads held high. Arms always open and minds of their own. (Much to my Father’s exasperation I might add).
I close my eyes against the tears that threaten to escape as Guruji finished looping the woven bells around my ankles. Giving a last cinching knot and a pat to his satisfaction. I bowed my head and touched the floor at his feet to seal and acknowledge the gift I had been given. This gift that had been set into motion years before. Bequeathed to me through choice and the confidence to know that I could be here. Here in this moment. Here in India. Here in my journey as a young woman with love in her heart, devotion in her blood, and all manner of fanciful ideas in her head. These three women are the ones I dedicate this performance to in humble acknowledgment of what you have each given me. You have given me hope. Hope and a practical will to make my dreams come true.
Thank you Momma, Grandma Judi, and Grandma Mary.
As I stepped onto the stage to rehearse for the fist time with my gungaroos, my heart soared. My dance was infused with love for the intimacy of my devotion to my Beloved. It was the soothing, regenerative balm my heart needed. To fill in the scars and sadness I have carried for far too long.
The moment I untie my gungaroo, remove my physical representation of marriage like the beautifully forgotten Devadassis before me. I step out into the bustling market, the world, as an independent woman. A woman taught well to hold her head high and take life as it comes. A woman both vulnerable and steadfast. A woman who fervently hopes to be worthy of dancing in a sacred union. Worthy, because I understand the nature of sacrifice.
I will part with words of wisdom from an antique shop man named Krishna. (My life is full of beautiful Krishnas this journey. Krishna the chai man in Bundi, Krishna the Hindi teaching godfather outside the temple, of course Jaganath (Jaganath and Krishna are both avatars of Vishnu) and the temple for Krishna I dance within).
“For anything of worth in life, you must sacrifice. Sacrifice your time, your sleep, your money, your body. If you are willing to sacrifice it all, you will gain it back tenfold.”
How right you are my friend.