Sometime in the early 90s, I put together a collection of short stories. Each tale dealt with an Indian woman who faces a terrible dilemma—and solves it with amazing panache and wile. The collection is titled: Sacrifice to the Black Goddess. My literary agent at the time had shown it to a bunch of Manhattan publishers. The universal verdict was that I had promise, but that I should first write a novel. And so the idea of writing something big and important began to stir within me.
In the winter of 1993, I met with James Kelleher, a brilliant vedic astrologer based in Los Gatos, California, who was on a work visit to Manhattan. Believe it or not, he saw a novel looming in my chart and said it was my dharma to bring it into the world. He even gave me the exact year I would finish it, and ended by warning me that I’d have endless problems trying to publish it; nevertheless, he stressed, I should persevere.
Writing a short story or an essay had always been pretty easy for me; a novel, on the other hand, is an altogether different kettle of fish. Being cursed with a horrifically impatient nature, I had never been able to stick to any long and complex project. I like to excel, and had done so all through school and college, but my pattern was to soon get bored and dance away to the next activity that caught my attention. Only one thing could sustain me through writing a full-length novel—a topic that consumed me from the inside out. I found this topic in the radical philosophy of Tantra, which stunned me with its liberating, profound and authentic teachings.
What is Tantra? Etymologically, it can be traced to the fusion of two Sanskrit words: tanoti and trayati, which roughly transliterate into the explosion of consciousness. The simplest definition I have found for it is: the transmutation of darkness into light.
What is darkness, and what is light? Darkness pertains to man operating on the level of beast: angry, jealous, greedy, lustful, and driven by fear; light refers to man at his highest point of evolution—as pure being, consciousness and bliss.
The ascent of consciousness is from muladhara, the root chakra—dense and heavy with the awesome fiery energy of the Kundalini—all the way up the invisible line of chakras to the sahasrara, or thousand-petalled lotus of higher consciousness, hovering slightly above the crown of the skull—by which time the individual ego has dissolved back into the Self, into the infinite vastness of cosmic intelligence.
Simply put, when male and female reunite, two become one; this wholeness dissolves the individual ego that causes all our suffering, leading to a permanent state of bliss. The process can be accomplished either singly—for every human possesses both male and female energies—or as a committed couple. It can take decades before one is ready to take on a mate—a fact which flies in the face of contemporary thinking that Tantra means nothing but sexual license and excess. Without a strong grounding in ethics and the philosophy of yoga, seeking liberation as a couple simply cannot work.
By this time, I had also trained as a hatha yoga teacher. My guru had blown my mind by teaching me the essence of the Bhagavad Gita. To think I’d grown up in India and never known I’d been parking my lazy bottom on a treasure trove of great wisdom! To think an American sadhu was now tossing me sparkling jewels from my own ancient culture…and that I’d wasted my time in south India belting out Janis Joplin, smoking ciggies, and trying to be oh so cool in the western way…oh, dear me, the many ironies of this human life….
The upshot of buying that little book at Ananda Ashram was that I now I had a title for my book: Whip of the Wild God. The Wild God was Rudra, who had metamorphosed into Shiva over the centuries. The theme would be the philosophy and practice of both celibate and red tantra, which had entranced my mercurial mind.
This being the pre-internet age, I began to make regular trips to the New York Public Library in order to research this vast subject. There I would plough through their impressive stash of material on eastern philosophy. Slowly the plot for my novel began to coalesce. Ishvari—a teenage girl born in a village situated on the fringes of a city based on the Indus Valley Civilization—became my fiery protagonist. (The Indus Valley was important to me because some scholars were saying that my ancestors, the Saraswat Brahmins, had settled there, and had practiced tantra.)
What becomes of this fierce, beautiful and brilliant girl, scarred as she is by the tragedies of her childhood? Guided by the advice of the royal astrologer, the envoy of the Maharaja of Melukhha whisks her away to be trained for seven years by tantric monks. Despite her simmering anger against her mother, as well as the lecherous priest and greedy landlord of her village, her ability to dazzle her superiors causes her to be elected to the role of High Tantrika. And so she is sent to serve as spiritual consort to Takshak, the corrupt and powerful monarch of Melukhha.
The stars in her arresting almond eyes quickly dim when Ishvari realizes she is no more than a gorgeously plumed bird in the proverbial golden cage. Unable to deal with her chaotic emotions when her royal lover abandons her for an alien sorceress, Ishvari rebels in the worst of ways—and so brings down the wrath of the monarch on all who have loved and cherished her. It is then that the teachings she has secretly spurned rise up again within her. The agony she experiences during her flight and the years that follow awaken within her the great roaring kundalini fire….and she is set firmly again on the path to moksha or liberation.