Confucius say: woman who walks barefoot in Hindu temple should watch where she puts foot. Eeeuuuuw
Did actually see a yin yang symbol in Jambukeshvara Temple, along with quite a few Chinese style lions head and dragon carvings on the gopuram. I guess they have been trading for 3000+ years so exchange of art makes sense. But I’m getting ahead, distracted as I am by recollections of standing in ugh Vishnu knows what… I refuse to speculate. Anyway since last I wrote it’s been days of full on temple overload (I started this days ago, sorry, you do now have Pondicherry in between.)
We left the villa in Madurai and started winding our way north. First stop Trichy also known as Tiruchirapalli. Two temples, overnight stay, hotel not memorable. Temples totally memorable! The first Ranganatha the largest Vishnu temple in India and site of my unfortunate foot step. It was once destroyed by Muslim invaders so was rebuilt with seven walls and facilities for the entire town to hide inside in case if siege. Granaries, kitchens, sleeping quarters, cow sheds, the works. It was the penultimate day of a festival so there was lots happening. It’s an auspicious time for festivals in Tamil Nadu it seems. P’raps even festival season.
Having declined the temple involving climbing 426 steps we went instead as second of the day to Jambukeshvara a Shiva temple dedicated to water as one of the five elements. There are five famous Shiva temples dedicated to each of the elements. Nice columns and light – site of yin yang carving. I’m being understated, apart from the elephant in chains I really did love this temple (it’s the one on the right above and these ones here below).
Then it was on to Tanjore also known as Thanjavur home of The Big Temple and also a somewhat disappointing museum – not 100% convinced we went to the right museum but anyway… the descriptions matched the guide books but not the pictures. Most odd. There was a festival at the 1000 year old Big Temple (proper name Brihadishvara Temple) so who cares too much about museums? That festival is described in the next post, total highlight so do read on!
Then on to Kumbakonam for two nights in a sacred centre with over 80 temples and multiple tanks. Hotel simple but excellent food, and the location of my second massage. Also we have our own bullocks, hens, geese and tonight there was a halo around the near full moon. Very atmospheric. Visits included Mahamaham Tank where Shiva broke the celestial egg and which they fill with water brought from the Ganges once every 12 years. Then Darasuram and a Vishnu Temple Sarangapani. Karthik and I also went to Swamimalai (temple for Ganesha’s brother) without the guide and saw a wedding being blessed. That was special. Must say though, that this guide was fabulous, he was 3 foot 6 tall, around 900 years old, blind in one eye and walked like Yoda. I couldn’t stop thinking of him as Yoda as for two days he guided me through multiple temples explaining more history and mythology than I could remember. “Careful Madam” he’d keep saying at every step and rough paving, in between talking to himself in Hindi, greeting everyone as they all seemed to know him, and pointing out architectural and carving marvels beyond recollection. Loved Yoda!
The Shiva temple at Darasuram called Airavateshvara is UNESCO listed/restored (as is the Big Temple) and has a second temple next door for Parvati which was also lovely. From there we wandered down the road to some silk weavers and made some minor purchases.
Final temple in the region was Gangaikondacholapuram. Which was built by the son of Rajaraja 1 who built The Big Temple and is also UNESCO listed and under restoration. I dare you to pronounce its name. Yoda tried to teach me but there’s at least one inflection I just couldn’t get.
Then we moved on to last temple of this overload is Chidambaram – the temple of Natraj. I went to Chidambaram with too many expectations and needless to say it was different to what I thought.
An introduction to Hindu temples would tell you all are different, and that’s true, but like Indian beaches in some fundamentals most have similarities. In none can you wear shoes. I remember arriving at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on our first night in India in 2009 and sharing Yvonne’s thinking as we took off carefully purchased closed toe sandals and had to walk through a communal bath barefoot for “purification”. After my slimey Vishnu temple step I am now most careful I can assure you.
Also most temples are walled with entrance gates topped with gopuram, the tall tapered towers. Some in plain white stone or for 1000 yr old Chola temples they’re granite, then there are others painted with more colors than a rainbow like in Madurai. All are intricately carved and detailed with mythological stories and creatures. All face one of the four cardinal directions. The god in the sanctuary always faces east. The transport (advocate/ intermediary) sits to the east of the god looking west into the sanctuary. Near the transport is typically a gold or copper flag pole for festivals.
All have a central sacred sanctuary area which is often Hindu only and always no photos. Most have sub-shrines around to the deity’s spouse or children or just local favourites. Some are a riot of noise and people and cows and incense and music and clanging, others empty and quiet, with solitary daubs of color and life brought by brilliantly sari-clad women, often apparently waiting, lost in thought.
It’s the variety and the differences, bound by an unspoken thread of commitment to “being Hindu” that speaks of the richness and diversity but commonality of human experience. People talk of India being a land of contrast, and to an extent it is, but it’s also constant, consistent. There is no “or” only “and,” and so there are things that would be similar 5,000 years ago while other things change from village to village, day to day.