Shiva – meaning ‘the auspicious one’ – completes the Trinity in the Hindu tradition, with Vishnu and Brahma, and is the patron God of meditation, yoga, and art forms. Nataraja, as he is called by artists, he is the vigorous cosmic dancer performing Tandavam, the “dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution.” Along with his anthropomorphic images, Shiva is also portrayed by the aniconic phallic lingam, along with Shakti’s yoni.

The location is Papavinasam, in Tamil Nadu, a temple dedicated to Shiva – the cleanser, the auspicious. The walls of the temple, olden and chiseled by the perennial waters and the air are glossy black. I have descended into the river that submerges the temple partly, and I move my legs adeptly trying to reach the surface, air leaving my lungs.

Sunlight penetrates from a crack. The waves of the river are fresh in their violence, a tandavam in rage and upheaval, also love and dissolution. I float, a victim of the river’s movements. A man and a woman emerge from the waters. In his hand, a thaali – a sacred yellow thread; the woman extends her neck and he ties the thread in three sacred knots. The lingam emerges from the water, and floats behind them.


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