Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tamil Nadu Temples

Virginia and Kate, my wife and daughter, volunteered to come along with me on my one-week trip to South India. So, I extended it to two weeks and added a trip to Madurai as part of that. After visiting Aravind Eye Hospital and Aurolab, we started on our vacation time.

South India is famous for its temples. People are quite religious, and have a great deal of pride in their religious heritage and temples. We especially appreciated getting the run-down on major deities and the great stories: it helped us understand what we were seeing as we toured the area.
One of the largest and most famous temples is in Madurai: the Meenakshi Amman Temple. It has numerous spectacular towers. When we arrived, all but one of the largest towers were covered: they need regular painting. We watched as men passed wooden poles up the last tower, as they built scaffolding lashed together (picture above). After the frame is up, they cover the frame with what looks like thatching: so you have this giant thatched tower (where the painters can work out of the elements).

Elephants play a significant role in Hindu mythology and religion. The most popular god seems to be Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who by legend is the son of Shiva and Parvati. He seems to have universal appeal, and most temples I saw had a shrine to him near the entrance. We visited the Meenakshi temple during its main festival, which celebrates the marriage of Shiva and Parvati. Virginia and Kate both received a live blessing from a real elephant in the temple. I was glad they had a friendly elephant: the next week another elephant went crazy and killed three people in another temple.

I love visiting cathedrals in Europe, and I had the same kind of feeling: great edifices raised as an expression of both power and reverence.

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