Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Temple Scene in Trivandrum

The narrow lane leading up to the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple is lined on one side with dozens of small stalls selling small toys, souvenir trinkets, tea, roasted cashews and other products for those headed for the temple. The other side of the lane is bordered by a long straight white wall topped by a wooden roof tipped up on the ends, characteristic of Keralan architecture, that is the Puthe Maliga Palace of the Travancore majarajas, and now a museum. Ahead, the temple looms about eighty feet above the road with its intricately stone carved figures of Hindu deities. Larger statues from the pantheon of Hindu gods stand on pedestals or reign from thrones beside the arched entries set on a stone platform reached by steep steps. To the side of the lane, behind the stalls is a city block sized open stone reservoir of water, known as a tank, where a few stone steps lead down to a narrow platform from which the devoted could pay 5 rupees to bathe.

On a Saturday evening near sundown, hundreds of worshipers made their way towards the temple, some milling around by the stalls and in the lane chatting and visiting each other, others walking together, many holding hands or by themselves. Women wore bright, colorful silk saris. The saris with flashes of red, gold, emerald green and peacock blues, some bordered with gold thread, flowed gracefully around dark skinned bodies. Some men wore simple white cloth dhotis, and bare chests. A sign in English warned that only Hindus were permitted to enter the temple itself, but as a couple of tourists we were not bothered by anyone as we walked around the outside platform of the temple, then bargained briefly with a vendor for a bag of delicious spiced roasted cashews. Part of the throng of worshippers were a group of about thirty male pilgrims, stopping off on there way to a major, all male annual temple festival in another part of Kerala, that gathered around one of several Land Rover vehicles to chant and pray to a small oil fire placed reverently on the hood of one of the cars. These men were distinguished by their black and orange dhotis. Their Land Rovers carried small temples mounted on their roofs in front of the loaded luggage racks. The cars presumably traveled in a caravan since all flew bright orange flags in each side of front windows, sticking into the air like escort vehicles. The story is that thousands of men in this sect traditionally walked through the jungle for days, braving tigers and other wild animals to reach the sacred temple high in the mountains. In modern times Land Rovers seem to have changed the mode of transportation for the more affluent part of this sect.

On another corner in downtown Trivanduram is a low lying half block sized temple of Ganesh, the elephant figure in Hinduism, where a group of dhoti wearing men could be seen just inside the dark entry throwing coconuts into a rectangular stone tub. A young English speaking man outside the temple explained that the men were making an offering with their prayers, like a better job, or whatever wish they hoped Ganesh would fulfill. One man labored with a large wooden rake to mix up the smashed coconuts. Throngs of men and women entered the temple, stepping down a few steps below the street level. The main street in front of the temple, known as MG Avenue, for Mahatma Ghandi was crowded with auto rickshaws, motorcycles with two or more people, new and old cars, including the ever present Ambassador taxi, open window local buses spewing black clouds of exhaust, and walkers dashing between all the vehicles in the noisy din.

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