Sometime in the mid 90s, I put together a collection of short stories. The protagonist of each tale is an Indian woman who faces a terrible dilemma and solves it with amazing panache. I titled the collection: Sacrifice to the Black Goddess, in honor of the Dark Goddess Kali. My literary agent at the time showed it to Manhattan publishers and 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.
Then, in the winter of 1993, I met James Kelleher, a brilliant vedic astrologer based in Los Gatos, California. He saw a novel looming in my chart and said it was my dharma to bring it into the world. He gave me the exact year I would finish it and ended by warning me that, although I’d have endless problems trying to publish it, I should persevere. Now writing a short story or essay had always been easy for me, but giving birth to a novel is a different kettle of fish. Being cursed with an impatient nature, I had so far never been able to stick to a complex project. While I had excelled all through school and college, my pattern was to get bored and dance away to the next activity. I realized only one thing could sustain me through writing a full-length novel—a topic that consumed me. I found this 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.” But what is darkness, and what is light? Darkness pertains to operating on the level of beast: angry, jealous, greedy, lustful, and driven by fear; light refers to the highest point of evolution—as pure being, consciousness and bliss.
The ascent of consciousness is from muladhara, the root chakra—heavy with the fiery energy of the Kundalini—all the way up the invisible chakras to the sahasrara, or thousand-petaled lotus of higher consciousness, hovering slightly above the crown of the skull—when the individual ego dissolves back into cosmic intelligence. Simply put, when male and female reunite, two become one; this wholeness dissolves the individual ego that causes all our suffering and can lead to a permanent state of bliss. This 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 encourages sexual license and excess. Without a strong grounding in ethics and yoga, seeking liberation as a couple simply cannot work.
By this time, I had also trained as a hatha yoga teacher. My guru blew 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 wisdom! And now an American sadhu was tossing me sparkling jewels from my own ancient culture! 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 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: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India. 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 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. As I ploughed through their impressive stash of material, a plot 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 is important to me because some scholars say that my ancestors, the Saraswat Brahmins, were its original settlers and had practiced Tantra.)
What becomes of fierce, beautiful and brilliant Ishvari? 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, the lecherous priest and greedy landlord of her village, her ability to dazzle 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. But the stars in her almond eyes quickly dim when she realizes she is no more than a gorgeous bird trapped in the proverbial golden cage. Unable to deal with her emotions when her royal lover abandons her for an alien sorceress, she rebels in the worst of ways—and so brings down the wrath of the monarch on all who have 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 decades that follow awaken within her the great roaring kundalini fire….and she is set firmly again on the path to moksha or liberation. (To be continued in the next post).
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who vows to help us clear up the wreckage of our relative lives, so we can rest in the peace and bliss of our immortal Self!