“Do you sing?” I asked without thinking, unaware of my intention. That question came from somewhere else; I was merely giving voice to a nudge from the cosmos.
The woman I’d met just ten minutes earlier smiled, lowered her eyelids, and began to sing—from a place that transcended the human who sat beside me. Her voice was clear and strong, with notes rising from the deepest of waters and traveling beyond the stars. She disappeared and all I felt was her gift and the sweetness that brought us together.
That morning I’d wandered into the small temple in Madurai, a city in Tamil Nadu, India where I’ve visited many times. The temple faced the huge Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam, a temple tank built with granite walls centuries ago. After visiting the temple tank, I crossed the busy street and went through the temple gates. A feeling of calm washed over me.
A caretaker welcomed me and stroked sacred ash on my forehead as I stepped on to the open mandapam, a covered stone platform with carved pillars leading to the sanctum sanctorum where the deity was housed. Then I walked the shaded grounds, circling around the temple building, visiting the smaller shrines. It didn’t take me long.
Few people were on the grounds. I saw the woman in the silky green sari sitting on the edge of the mandapam and I sat nearby. We began to talk—the usual topics about my country, work, family. I felt good sitting near her, feeling a natural flowing exchange. That’s when I asked the question. The question that sprang easily from our connection there in the temple, after I was warmly welcomed, after I explored and appreciated the cooling shade and the carved stone bull that faced the deity in the inner sanctum. I asked and she sang, and I felt complete for those brief moments in India, complete in the gift that was our passing. We were both blessed.
Please let this connection stretch longer, I thought. I want to stay with her, sit on the mandapam, visit and laugh and hear her sing more. She said she wanted to stay, but she needed to go. Fifteen minutes—that’s all I had with her—but afterwards, I had countless minutes of recalling that moment of spontaneity and connection and good fortune and blessing.