|Subject: bringing you the world
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000 00:54:53 -0800 (PST)
Hello all! It's been a while. I can't exactly remember where I left off, so let's just recap for a bit. Break out you're map of India.
This is what I've seen so far:
Whew. I can still do that from memory... So I think the last time I wrote to y'all collectively was the first time in Calcutta. Shit. It's useless to bring the events up to date. So why bother writing at all?/?! Best leave that question alone.
So yah. Start at the end work back to the middle or something. This morning I arrived in Madurai. I got off the train at five A.M. after intermittant sleep on the floor of the 3rd class compartment beside the bathroom. Tried not to think about the foulness and just, well, sleep as best I could. Which is not too well as you might understand what with an, as usual overbooked traincar. Well, I used my bag as a pillow for security reasons and hid my head under my prayer shawl (I can't see you you can't see me...I'm in my own little world. REmember making tents out of bedsheets as a kid? Little did you know you were developing practical life skills). Anyway, off the train in Madurai. It becomes this running joke travelling India from temple to temple. Most tourists burn out pretty quick. Fortunately I'm on Hindu pilgrimage here, and an architectural survey mission, so more the merrier. Still you get off the train and all you tend to know about the place is that there's a big temple somewhere. So what do you do? I decided not to ask anyone, and follow the feng shui of the city to see if I could just wander to the temple. Which I directly did. Straight to the temple well and a quick bath, changing into my dress whites of a dhoti and an indian dress shirt. Main difference is it has pockets on the sides and one of those archaic collars for attatching an old fashion detatchable collar to. I think. THe evolution of this garment explains a lot about colonialism's impact on Indian society.
So now properly dressed, I enter the temple. I'm right on time for the sunrise pooja (i.e. hindu mass)and curiously fell in line behind these brahmins nearly running around the whole complex with a bier ostensibly housing a deity (turns out to be Ganesha). So after doing a quick lap, ganesh is ushered into the temple amidst an elongated oboe's crooning and one of those double headed drums (whose name I always forget) Good tunes; sort of from the Ornette Coleman school of free jazz.
So I make my way around front and witness a drawn curtain before the shrine where the "secret" part of the Brahmin ritual is taking place (oh please). Then the curtain's thrown back to reveal Ganesh in all his glory. Flames abound from ghee lamps and the brahmin brings one lamp forward. This is the part where you heat your hands over the flame and then cover your eyes with them, finally passing hands over head. Then they distribute the sacred ash which you smear on your forehead. But then the fun part begins. THe brahmins lead the small gathering in attendance from one shrine to the next which surround the inner sactum waving flames and chanting particular mantras before each diety, several of which are new to me. They're practically running from god to god and its hard to keep up. Finally the distribution of prasad, a blessing, for having made it this far in tow. Good way to wake up in the morning.
Yesterday I woke up in Auroville and headed for Tiruvanamallai. I wanted to stay at Ramana Maharshi's ashram. But when I got there by the middle of the afternoon I discovered you needed a reservation. Offended by the notion, I left to go to the ashram next door where they sent their overflow. The office was closed until 5:30. So I went to the main temple in town and found this maze of croud control gates and fences protecting everything. It looked like a combination prison and disney land. Plus, three of the elaborately ornamented towers were covered with thatch making them look like the worlds largest bamboo towers. But the last straw was this poor elephant in shackles in front. Literally he could not move his front two feet since they were chained together. This was not a happy animal. He was actually rubbing his ankle with his trunk from where his manicles were chafing. I picked up a guide book to place a date on the temple (circa 850-1250AD) and the only fact that caught my fancy was the fact that the train station was half a mile away. I thought I should check THAT out. So I did and here I am...
to be continued....