Temple trails

2017 came to an end with a blazing trail of temples in Southern India. Guruvayoor temples, Madurai Meenakashi Amman temple, Avanashi and Palani temples all beautifully old and steeped in worship since many centuries. The last of these was a fitting end with us getting a chance to witness the Ucchha pooja (noon worship) right in front of the inner sanctum. It was a completely new experience to let go to the sounds, sights and smells of faith. Sometimes believing is about believing in the faith of another. Besides the whirlwind of temples, we also managed a sunset by the sea, a morning of bird watching and a visit to a weavers cluster.

Mural on the wall of Guruvayoor temple depicting the story of Krishna sucking the poison from Putana

Guruvayoor in Kerala was our first stop and we spent a leisurely two days in this temple town. Being December, the holiday crowd as well as the Sabarimala pilgrims added to the swollen crowds. It’s a level playing field as far as darshan is concerned, everyone waits in line. There is a stage setup in front of the temple and we had the pleasure of watching inspired kaikottilkali and Bharatnatyam performances. Dance and song in glory of the divine is of a different nature altogether. The flavour lingers long after the performance has ended. The approach to the temple begins with a large Garuda watching over the lively town. The long walk towards the entrance is lined with shops and stalls selling clothing, accessories, food, handicraft items, medicines and flowers. The ubiquitous Kerala kasavu spills out from every nook and corner and almost 90% of the women devotees are clad in it too.

Devotees in the temple complex

It is by far my favourite weave for its grand simplicity. The walls of the temple complex are covered in vibrant murals depicting the stories from the puranas. The best time to admire them is in the morning when the sunlight makes them come alive.

We stood in line for almost 4 hours before inching through inside for a darshan. Considering the dark and crowd, we barely saw the idol. The stone walls were cool to touch and seeped with smells of sandalwood paste, incense and endless oil.

Bharatnatyam performance

These iconic temples have a larger than life feel about them but I never feel calm in so much crowd. I prefer the smaller ones with no fanfare. The neighbouring Mammiyoor temple was more up my alley with its sparse crowd. A small but exquisite structure which was peaceful right from the giant peepul tree at its entrance. None of these beautiful edifices have authorship of their artisans. The sculptures chiselled into the walls, or standing alone are exquisitely beautiful and have stood the test of time. It makes me wonder how they were teased out of the stone, so lifelike. Art like that is divine.

One of the many shops selling handicrafts I suppose I would have to go back and spend more time to really soak in all the legends and stories. Two days is too short to do anything more than scratch the surface. Someday, I may be one of the wandering souls who can spend as many days as she wants in these places. Until then, there’s just these snatches of time in the hustle of a householder’s life.

All I did by way of my practice was tie my legs with the sticks everyday. We spent a lot of time in trains and on the move. The last leg was a long train journey and I was planning on how I would get back to a new routine when I fell sick, terribly sick. The first week of this year was spent in bed and it’s only now I am getting back to a semblance of normal. At times like this I wonder if I will ever get back to a regular practice? Perhaps, I should just stick to the texts and thoughts. But, that’s probably just the weakness of illness talking. Tomorrow is a new day, an empty page.

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