The fabric of time, cyclical in nature and upon which memories are woven with intricate detail, winds, and unwinds the karmic ledger — the metaphysical diary that records every action, gross, subtle, and causal. Bound by the rope of all activities resulting from action, life spins round and round like a wheel, experiencing a spectrum of suffering or bliss as dictated by what was already written and what continues to be written in the karmic ledger. The predicament of how to sever the bonds of that rope, to be unbound to the vicissitudes of the mind and body in the earnest and elusive quest for absolute emancipation, is the aim of all yogic practice. Easily described but seldom granted.
I awoke four hours before dawn on Friday (śukravāra-vārānvitāyāṃ), the first and most auspicious day of the week, showered and walked to the Kāmākṣī temple, fasted, rested, and in the early stage of neuroendocrine equanimity. Warm yellow light from the temple lamps bathed the temple corridor, a gentle smoke of sandalwood incense emanating from the door leading to the inner temple. One could hear the soft chanting of the Kāmākṣī suprabhātam exuding from within the inner sanctum santorum. I chanted along silently until I heard a pair of ankle jinglet approaching. Someone seemed to be walking toward the temple, obscured by the combination of the early morning mist and sacred sandalwood incense fumes.
An elderly woman walked closer, emerging from the backdrop of radiant light and whose face and maternal disposition seemed to glow with the power of a thousand suns. I had never seen her at this temple before and did not have the foggiest idea of who she was. Someone nearby greeted her, “namaskāram Lalitha-amma” (amma meaning mother). She cast a look on me and smiled, and without thinking or speaking, I sensed a mysterious sense of devotion rising from the deep recesses of my mind. She placed her hand on top of my head and walked past the door inside the sanctum sanctorum, and it felt as if all the seven chakras were in perfect alignment.
I was ushered into the inner sanctum santorum (garbhagṛha) and made to sit directly in front of the mūlamūrti statue of the divine mother. Śaśāṅka, one of the temple priests, walked up to me and gave me a five-metal alloy (panćalōha) of sōma to drink. Soon all the priests and onlookers began chanting in unison, a continuation of a tradition spanning more than four thousand years in the land of the most ancient spirituality. Vessels of water, milk, honey, ghee, sandalwood water, and turmeric water were taken inside the sanctum santorum to begin the pre-dawn ritual of bathing the mūlamūrti statue.
Lalitha-amma began singing a carnatic invocation to Gaṇeśa, imploring “that which is free from all obstacles” or nir-vighna. I felt a strange tingling sensation in my feet and hands, and with every passing second, the aesthetic import of every musical note (svara) deepened, and every wave of energy moved slower. Soon, Lalitha-amma was already singing the line “vāmadēva pārvati sukumāra” invoking Karthikēya, the son of Sīva and Sākti and I strayed out of the realms of time and space, my eyes closed but my being transported from one realm to another. It was not until I heard Lalitha-amma singing saint Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar’s magnus opum composition śrī viśva nāthaṁ bhajēhaṁ in praise of Śiva that I passed through a kaleidoscope of colorful fractals. I seemed to be passing from the gross to the subtle, moving from the outermost to an inner shade of consciousness.
This composition, called a ćaturdaśa rāga mālikā or a garland of fourteen rāgas, has fourteen stanzas, each of which represents one of the fourteen realms of consciousness. In the concept of the divine union of Śiva and Śakti, the primordial cause of the multiverse is maternal. Śiva carries the mind through the layers of consciousness, only in anticipating the divine maternal Śakti to take up residence. With Śakti, Śiva creates, preserves and dissolves, but without her, he is incapable of even movement. Though I had heard and sung this composition countless times, the very innermost essence of the lyrics and the deepest aesthetic quality of numinous musical notes washed over me as if it was being sung in a cosmic plane devoid of all senses. I began traversing the fourteen worlds with Lalitha-amma’s singing:
…I offered my reverence to Śiva, the sovereign of all cosmos, dwelling in the hearts of those adorned with the garland of fourteen Ragas, each a symbolic echo of the fourteen realms.
…the one who dissolves the trepidation of earthly existence in those who have sought sanctuary, eradicating fear entrenched within the deep psyche and addressing the triad of tribulations starting with Adhyatmika.
…consort of Goddess Viśālākṣī, known as well as Gowri, the one who is simultaneously formless and embodied, the manifestation of the sublime trinity of existence, consciousness, and bliss, the guardian of Gowri.
…the one who has manifested into the grand theater that is the mesmerizing cosmos, shining with the brilliance of countless suns and moons, casting their luminescence upon this world.
…the one lauded by great preserving forces at work in the universe, whose essence radiates an untouched whiteness, limbs cloaked in ash echoing an unmatched purity, surpassing even the whiteness of milk, jasmine, the moon, and camphor.
…the one transforming into the form of a Linga, entrancing to Kārthikēya, taking on the shape of a Linga that enchants the cosmos in its entirety, a cosmos woven from the tapestry of the five grand elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether – each diverging from a singular primordial source.
…the perpetually propitious one, revered through the harmonious chantings of the Sama Veda, exalted by the symphonic recitations of the Sama Veda, a melody imbued with the seven fundamental notes, originating from Prakrti – the primordial nature, the fundamental substance of all creation.
…the pure manifestation of truth, recognized solely by those bearing compassionate hearts, cherished by those with refined hearts, free from the shackles of desire, wrath, and the like.
…the one who is Bhairava, a manifestation of Śiva embodying the fierce and terrifying aspect, dwelling within the intimate cosmos of consciousness, the vanquisher of Tripuras, symbolic of the three realms of physical, astral, and causal existence. Bearing the skull of Brahma, the generative force of creation, and wielding a mighty trident, the formidable one, the demolisher of Tripuras – the three cities representing ignorance, desire, and actions.
…the energy of the hall of the dance of inner consciouness, the one cradling a deer, the one gently holding a deer brought into being by the sage-seers of the Daruka forest.
…I perpetually yield to the one adorned with auspicious jewels, standing as the preeminent granter of cherished desires, the one arrayed in ornaments resplendent with precious rubies radiating auspiciousness.
…the one whose lotus-feet offer the path to liberation, the one whose lotus-feet are highly adept at fulfilling the quadrivium of human pursuits – beginning with Dharma, the moral duty, and Artha, the pursuit of spiritual wealth and prosperity.
…the benevolent bestower, the one who executes endeavors for the celestial beings with playful ease, the one who artfully conducts the quintet of cosmic actions – the creation, preservation, dissolution, concealment, and divine grace – all with an air of celestial playfulness.
…the guardian of King Vaidyalinga, with ‘Vaidya’ symbolizing a healer and ‘Linga’ representing Śiva, thus together implying the force who is a healer in the image of Śiva. The protector of this king, who is deeply rooted in Gartatira (Kuzhikkarai), located to the southwest of the sacred Tiruvarur.
At the end of this singing of this composition, I appeared to be at my zenith, at the deepest inner level of consciousness I have ever experienced or felt. I had taken to the inner realm by Śiva and was about to witness Śakti — the union that has been described as flood of beauty.
I heard the carnatic composition “pālinchu Kāmākṣī” being sung in madhyamāvati rāga. Every bit of water, milk, honey, ghee, sandalwood paste, and turmeric water that the divine mother’s statute was being bathed in flowed from her head down to her feet and then onto my head. My body, mind, and spirit were flooded by the infinite and all-encompassing love, with a kind of beauty that surpassed all human ability, and my soul ascended towards an experience of absolute and total awe.
Tears were flowing down my face, but not a single one of them was in either pain or desire but in profound gratitude. Soon my grandparents and all the saints lined up over my head and sprinkled holy rice on my head, and it felt as if I was now ready to depart this planet to join my divine Mother, my identity fulfilled as ornately South Indian, my life complete with meaning, my heart full of love and spirit bathed in truth.
The concept of Śiva and Śakti describes the inseparable union of two fundamental cosmic forces. Śiva represents pure energy, the self-realizing consciousness known as Brahman, while Śakti symbolizes the reflective form through which Śiva realizes his power. This analogy can be likened to seeing one’s own reflection in a mirror and recognizing it as oneself. Śakti is both the seed and the sprout of creation and sustains the universe through her illusory power, known as Maya. It is their union that possesses the power to create, as Śiva alone or Śakti alone cannot bring forth creation.
Similarly, in Bayesian statistics, the concept of conjugate priors reflects a relationship between prior and posterior distributions. A prior distribution represents our initial belief about a parameter before observing any data, while a posterior distribution is the updated belief after incorporating the observed data. Conjugate priors are specific prior distributions that, when combined with certain likelihood functions, result in posterior distributions that belong to the same family as the prior.
Here, we can draw an analogy between Śiva and Śakti and the multinomial and Dirichlet distributions, respectively. The multinomial distribution is used to model the outcomes of categorical variables, and Śiva represents this distribution. On the other hand, the Dirichlet distribution serves as a prior for the multinomial distribution, just as Śakti is the reflective form that empowers Śiva. The Dirichlet distribution allows us to express our beliefs about the proportions of different categories in the multinomial distribution, resembling Śakti’s role in sustaining and creating through her illusory power.
The analogy emphasizes that just as Śiva cannot act without Śakti’s sheer force, the multinomial distribution lacks full expressive power without the influence of the Dirichlet prior. Śakti’s presence completes the cosmic duo, enabling the creative and sustaining aspects of the universe, while the Dirichlet prior enhances the multinomial distribution, incorporating our prior beliefs and allowing for more meaningful inference. In both cases, the union of Śiva-Śakti and the combination of multinomial-Dirichlet contribute to the harmony and interplay of fundamental forces.
I opened my eyes, my face still streaming with tears of bliss, and saw a smiling Śaśāṅka standing above me. No words in any human language, be it verbal, art, or science, can ever fully describe what I had glimpsed. Many selfless practitioners bound by dedication and devotion have written about similar experiences. How I am deserving of this, I do not know. But one thing I do know is this: I yearn for the day when I can permanently merge with my divine Mother.