“She is coming , she is coming….. she will kill me”.
“I can see the goddess Kali , with her black hair streaming from her face” .
“Look, look she is riding her tiger , her lips red with the blood of the demons. I can see her lance wanting to pierce into my heart… help me help me”
The old man ran hysterically behind each pillar on the outskirts of the ancient temple muttering to himself. The cold black stone under his feet,the fragrant yet familiar smell of burning joss sticks and the warmth of the glow of candle lit lamps calmed him a little , These were the sensations and smells he was accustomed to. He had lived in the vicinity of the temple all his life . Yet now each moment was sheer torture . He had no where to go . A thief trapped in the prison of his own guilt.
Once he had been the head priest, a post he cherished with great pride . His father had been the head priest before him. His grandmother would tell everyone that her favourite grandson was special, that he would lead a charmed life, he was blessed as he grew up in the ‘lap of the Goddess’ .
Prison for seven years had been a nightmare for him, but release was worse. He had been released a few months ago and he had to now face the entire village for having done a deed which no mortal soul could forgive, leave alone his beloved deity the goddess Kali – no penance was hard enough. ” I will have to be reborn a thousand times , before this sin is wiped out,” he would cry to his wife each night beating his chest .
No one else would speak to him. The villagers would shake their fists at him and glare at him . They had once respected and had held him in high regard. They entrusted him with all their ceremonies . He would perform the birth ceremonies when their children were born and he would perform the last rites before the bodies of their dear departed were carried on the funeral pyre. He had performed their matrimonial ceremonies and prayed for success in their businesses and lives.
At one time people would turn a deaf ear when they heard whispers that he was not always straight in all his dealings. Especially with respect to purchase of essentials for the temple services. This had been tolerated by the villagers who felt that though he may be a petty thief, he would do nothing to harm the temple, or the village. He had been a pleasant man, caring and kind. However over the last few months every thing changed ! He turned capricious and became ambitious for his growing sons. His sole desire in life was to send his children to University in the big city. ” My Amar will be a chartered accountant ” he would say and
“My second son Avinash will become a lawyer.”
The boys were bright and they had trained to chant the Sanskrit prayers by rote and had learnt how to perform all the ceremonies .The earnings of the Head priest from all these ceremonies was not enough and it had been apparent to him that prayer alone would not be enough to fulfill his dreams. He had to somehow augment his income.
One day he came across two business men ,examining the deity closely. Usually, the deity was covered by ceremonial clothes when the temple was open to the public. These two strangers seemed to have spent the whole day inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. They had bribed the junior priests. Thereafter instructions for ’special handling’ had been transmitted down the hierarchy. After the ceremony the clothes adorning the beautiful statue of the goddess were being changed and the two men had photographed the priceless necklace embedded with precious jewels worn around her neck.
It was late in the night that the two men approached the head priest at his home. They took him aside and spoke to him in a low hushed tone. They promised him huge amounts of money and steadily and slowly into the wee hours of the morning wore down his resistance and guilt. They promised him sums of money he had hitherto never had access to. Finally they were successful. That very night they actually walked away with the priceless necklace. The head priest locked away the large leather bag bulging with wads of soiled currency notes in his cupboard.
Now it was time for repentance for just these few moments of weakness.
“Kali mata is my Mother. A son has robbed his Mother …..” he would cry banging his head on the stone pillars at the periphery of the temple.
On his release he had to face a far bigger trial, a trial where there was no mercy – the trial and the judgement of his own family, the boys who had once looked upto him now would not look into his eyes…… what example or tradition had he left behind them … the legacy of the ’stolen necklace’ ? He had cried and begged for mercy from the other junior priests. He had no where else to go, they had allowed him to come back to the temple though he was forbidden from going inside near the deity. After the heinous crime had been performed, a large lock had been put near the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum, or the garbhagriha the womb of the temple as it was known . The statue of the goddess was no longer accessible to all; a grilled iron door separated her from the rest of the temple which was opened only under police protection.
The dishonored priest had returned the money to the temple and another beautiful necklace had replaced the stolen one. During the evening ceremonies, the jewels reflected the lights from a thousand lamps and shimmered bright colors – a psychedelic feast. Villagers who went to offer their prayers would look at their beautiful Goddess in captivity and shake their heads in despair. They would ask each other….. “what sin had their goddess committed that ‘She’ their beloved deity was to be eternally behind bars on account of the greedy priest?”