Kataragama Trails | Part II

It’s nearing mid-day and I’ve travelled 5 kilometers to Sella Kataragama, or Chella as I would spell it. As the bus turns in to the depot I see the river filled with people bathing and across it lies the Pillaiyar kovil. I walk towards the kovil, take my slippers off again and observe the rituals.

A woman places a few coins before the idol before joining her hands in worship, and then touches the melting liquid dripping from the camphor-driven fire and applies it to her scalp. I follow suit. How is it that these acts escape absurdity?

A red shalwar catches my eye as I circle the shrine of Ganesh. Is this the girl in my dream last night? I feel like speaking her name just to see if she’d respond. I follow her shadow through the crowd of pilgrims, and as I see her raise her hands in worship I feel them slap me across my face. This is no place for such thoughts.

I leave the kovil and head towards the Lakshmi devalaya. It’s a short walk through a meandering path and then there it is. The idols are massive. I stare in awe at Vishnu as his crown almost touches the ceiling. Haro hara, Narayana. I feel small.

I see Saraswati playing her sitar as I make my way out, and she is still lingering in my mind. Where is this Gayathri I seek? Does she only exist in the mantras I speak? Has she no abode, no figure or incarnation I could meet?

I sit down outside the devalaya and ask for a thambili. The sand in Chella is soft. They don’t have straws. I pull out my guitar and sing to Saraswati, to Gayathri, to every woman that has ever evaded me. I can sense the attention of the little kids around me, but they have no patience for the music of passion, of longing, of absence.

What can a child know of absence?
A lot, it seems, for I am still a child in her eyes.
Perhaps I am, perhaps I will always be.
Gayathri, how long more can you evade me?

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