Goodbye, Moksa: Tirukkurungudi

Vitu Vidai (Jan 8 2018): The Goodbye

I don’t know how people weren’t weeping by the end of the proceedings yesterday, as Tirukkurungudi’s magnificent Adhyayanotsavam drew to a close. This is one of few temples that adds an extra day to the 20 day-festival, a final day of goodbyes, releases from promises, and returns. Tirumankai asks to be released from his “vitu” and returned to this world, to return from the Nitya Vibhuti–the eternal land–to this world, our Lila Vibhuti, our land of play. In keeping with this notion, what a play we and he staged!

There is so much to say about this one day, so long, so complex and multi-layered. It may seem that Alvar Moksam *is* the point of the Adhyayanotsavam, but really, at Tirukkurungudi, it’s about goodbye, transition, separation and that tantalizing promise of return.

At the end of an eight hour day, where the action is non-stop, Nambi creeps towards the Vaikuntha Vasal. While every evening at the end of the day’s festivities, he rushes back on, carried on the shoulders of his palanquin bearers, last night, he moved at a snail’s pace, moving from the Ira Pattu mandapam, through the Vaikuntha Vasal and back to his sannidhi, his original place, Vaikuntha itself. As he left, they extinguished the electric lights behind him one by one, until he was lit only by the glowing luminsence of the towering oil flames. As he reached the Vasal, he turned and faced the crowd that awaited him on the other side. He stayed a long time there, as though as reluctant to leave as they to let him go. If on Vaikuntha Ekadasi, the refrain was Govinda Govinda Govinda, a rallying cry as god descended to the world of play, today, there was silence from the devotees, and only the plaintive cry of the nagasvaram, which seemed to echo the heart’s plea: don’t go, don’t go, don’t go.

He crosses the threshold–he’s in Vaikuntha now, I suppose. I really don’t know, because space has become so confused, and time as well. As he waits, Visvaksena arrives, and with him the keys to the Vaikuntha Vasal. Under the watchful gaze of Nambi’s deputy and Nambi himself, the Gate of the North is closed shut. For good measure it is locked and sealed with wax. The gateway that made the descent possible, for Nambi to be intimate and here, seems irrevocably closed. You could feel the weight of grief in the gathered devotees, as if that weight alone could make him stay, if only grief was like gravity, and one simply had to accede to its power.

I take my own Vidai today, admittedly, in a bit of a stunned, overwhelmed state. But not all goodbyes are forever. The Vasal will open once again. Nambi will come again, and so will I.

I took more than 1500 photographs yesterday. I haven’t even sorted through them. This is a sample.