She was a dancer. Grace flowed in her every move. Each step that she took was like a sigh, each note of her lilting voice a desire.
She was not well known. A few villages around the King’s city, that is all. She would perform there routinely every year – some villages in the festival season, some after the harvest, and in some as a harbinger of auspicious monsoons. They worshipped her, almost. Her dances brought prosperity to them, they were sure. And joy to all – the women immersed in the music and the spectacle – knowing that their cares will be a little lighter with the dance. The children agog with the splendiferous performance. And the men, with hope in their eyes, watched till they were satiated.
She was generous with her performances, dancing often till the first light of day. She danced the stories, as she had been taught. And then some more, in ways that could never be taught. The stories became real, as reality never could. There was an art to it, but there was a science too, for she had been taught well.
Years ago, when she was a young girl in her own village far away, they had come. They came as travelers, dressed in shades of black and flame. They had horses, so the villagers knew they were rich and could pay for food. Their camp was set up by river that ran alongside the village. The same river that she would go to each morning. Her uncle and aunt thought that she was going to the river for her bath with the other girls, and knew she would bring back water for the day. But she did not stay with the girls for too long. They would tease her about a secret lover, knowing that she was too young to have one. And she smiled, and slipped away.
Her secret was not difficult to discover, and once the other girls found out, they protected her from the elders. It was harmless, a young girl, twirling and with free abandon on a flat rock by the river, dancing to the rising sun. This is when they saw her, the riders, from their camp by the river. She glowed with the light of the morning, her rhythm flawless to the music that only she heard, or maybe they did too.
She was not motherless, though her father was long gone. He was a traveler too, taking goods from town to town to make a profit. His mother had waited for him for years, waited herself into a silence so profound that it seemed to make her invisible to all. The dancing daughter was looked after by others, with sense, but with as much care as one would give another.
So, when the travelers with the horses came asking for her, there was no one who really objected. They promised a lot for her future, and gave more than their promises. She traveled with them, riding in front of the one with the largest horse. She had no fear in riding far away from all that was known but never had been hers.
The riders had a destination but they seemed to be in no hurry to get there. They would ride for days and nights without tiring and then as if they had received a signal they would be a sense of calm that would float like a cloud around them. The horses would slow down without a command and the riders would let go of the reins. Then, the horses would lead them to a spot where they could camp in safety and comfort. A blanket, the soft grass or sand and some hot food cooked from whatever they could find was comfort enough. She asked no questions and they liked her for it. She looked forward to these stops, the longer the better. Each time they stopped, one rider would beckon to her and she would walk to the edge of the camp. Then, with a stick to draw symbols with, her lessons would begin. The riders spoke of the beginning of the world, of the sun as it rose and the rhythms that even sound could not capture. She listened enraptured. As she listened, she learnt – and each learning was like a dance to her.
She was quick to make herself useful too. She had learnt much from her aunt and could build a fire faster than most. When they went out to hunt for food, she organized the camp in ways that suited them, and when they had cooked the food, the choicest morsels were saved for her. She was quick to observe, and quick to learn. They looked alike at first, but soon she learnt how each of them differed. Some were quicker than others, some had eyes that flashed with anger and some were kinder than others. They did not seem to speak much and in that she was reminded of her mother’s silences. They were there, and not there – just as a low flame is there in the dark of the night. When they spoke, it was a calm cool river that flowed, full of wisdom and light that filled her very being.
They were headed for the hills. An ancient temple with tall pillars but no roofs. She knew what they wanted. They wanted to teach her dance. Not just the dance to the rising sun that was from the village. Not the one that she still danced every morning, sneaking off, observed, just as she did in the village. But the dance of the universe. With its precise rhythms and shapes. She was happy.
The years rode by hard and fast. She met her teacher in the open temple in the hills. She never found out how old she was, never dared to ask. A title was not expected – all called the old lady ‘Zaemun’. She did not know what that meant. The riders left soon and she stayed on with Zaemun. Learning the dances of the past, and building the future with her dance. Zaemun taught her all even though it took years. She learnt till the dance became her and then some more. She could with her twirl call the clouds to her command, and with a flounce send them off. She could, she knew, bring wars to a kingdom, or with another twist of her capable hands change the fate of the powerful. Her dance was a weapon, she danced in the lap of the Gods.
Then they sent her away. To dance in little villages. She danced with a will, waiting for the call. Knowing she brought happiness to simple lives, knowing that she had roles to play in complex ones. She danced her complex moves to mesmerize them. As she twisted her fingers into unfathomable shapes, heaven met earth. Prosperity followed the rhythms of time, and peace followed the rhythms of nature.
She knew it was time. The rising sun told her so. She danced to it again, building protection for the villages that she would leave today.
The riders from the palace were on their way, for the King had heard of the amazing dancer. The festivals were here and the feasts were being prepared. Dancers he had many, another would only add to the grandeur of his court. He was tired of the intrigues and threats and looked forward to the festival. A few days devoted to pleasure, as the harvests ripened in the fields. And unknown to him, conspiracies ripened in the corridors.
She could smell the blood that would be let as she descended from the curtained chariot they had sent for her. As she walked through the cool corridors that led to her apartments the whispers floated past her like black smoke. The contest was not even. The play was not fair. The reasons were all wrong. And she had been bidden.
Even though the King did not know it, he was hers to protect. He had called on her and that was enough, she knew. He could not be expected to understand the rhythms that lie beneath but she had been taught well. She knew what she had to do, with a little twist of her hands. She was the MudraSeni.
Note: Mudras are precise positions of the hands that are supposed to cure diseases and bring other positive or negative changes in the system. Mudras are known as the yoga of the hands and work with key points in the body, recognized in other systems such as acupressure etc. Mudras an element of Tantric practices too.
There are many more chapters to her story. More keep getting added. One of them is online here: https://aanteladda.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/mudraseni-2/