Meenakshi Amman Temple

If you’re thinking what I was thinking, yes! Meen as in meen kappa (fish curry with boiled tapioca/coconut/tumeric), but in this case, Meenakshi as in fish eyed, an old-fashioned compliment for women with almond-shaped eyes. You weren’t thinking that? Anyway, once we woke and had a lovely breakfast of idly, vada, sambar, chutneys, and a couple new Tamilian dishes we enjoyed, life looked far more cheerful than it had the night before. (Short story: attempted mugging) Setting off in the old streets around the Meenakshi Amman temple meant winding our way toward the center. This part of town was designed so that the streets are shaped like lotus leaves and the temple is in the middle. Specifically, I think, this: But that is most certainly jumping ahead. We avoided entering right off the bat by going into the market. The bundles of trim and lace and ribbon fascinated me. Any of my witches need a new cauldron? Safety in numbers… This temple complex covers 17 acres and the original temple is over 3000 years old, it was crushed by the Mugals (of course) and then rebuilt by the Hindus (of course) and it obvious what made it through the Mugal sacking (below). And indoor prayer areas: Non-hindus aren’t allowed in the actual shrine, but the galleries surrounding it are beautiful in their own right. Seriously. No, seriously. Even the workshop area has gravitas and incredible lighting. I am amazed by the loving care given these statues…actually, I don’t think it’s insulting to call them idols. I saw a bus called the “Passionate Idolators”. This stone figure has been rubbed with so much ghee that the stone looks hot. She’s standing on a peacock, but it didn’t make it into the picture. Every building is shot with beams of sunlight, and[…]

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Madurai Mad

We arrived in Madurai at nearly midnight, after an emergency dental tightening and a long train ride. First thing, right after we left the train station proper, a young man starts following us. He tries to talk a couple times, but we wave him off. “No,” he says, “help you. My hotel.” Dena’s version: We’re good, man. Leave us alone. But he doesn’t. Instead, he walks with, around, and tries for between us, but we won’t let that happen. He’s jockeying for a position that will let him walk up to the suitcase James is carrying, but I cut him off. He pulls out a phone and texts and I’m thinking he’s got a crew and he’s setting up a group to roll us, but no one comes from the open gate or the next side road. Finally, I get impatient and wave him away. “Go. You walk that way.” In the process of waving, I swat him in the shoulder…he is following that close to me on an otherwise empty road. James is walking faster and getting tenser, and then the kid darts at me (I see him coming because I’m not taking my eyes off him), flails at me, and slaps my chest. I don’t know if he’s after my backpack strap (stupid) or retaliation for touching him, but he’s not so stupid he doesn’t know to run once he’s touched me. He’s long gone in no time and James doesn’t chase him far in case the distraction is the whole point. We’re basically at the hotel by that time anyway, so we sweep in past the lounging dudes out front and handle the check-in with ill grace. All I want is a private room with a lock and some time for hugging. James’ version: Rolling one of[…]

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Attukal Pongal

I was riding my bike not long after 8 in the morning on the 11th, heading into town for Attukal Pongal. When an event is the record holder for the most women gathered in one place – and the number is up to 4 million at this point – one would expect traffic to be a mess. Like most sporting events, though, people trickle in and pour out, so the ride in was a cake-walk. If by cake, you mean millions of women sticking to the shade but ready for some sacred fire, and by walk, you mean rolling through among a half-dozen other kinds of traffic. Gopikrishna is Maya’s son and took most of the photos in this post. Here’s the photographer at work. That’s Maya in the foreground, Sangeetha in the middle ground, and Gopikrishna in the background. He asked to see the camera, I showed him a couple basics, and he was off! When I say off, I mean I looked around and I couldn’t find him. As you see, though, he was doing great work in the meantime. Pongala is a ceremony wherein I set up a pot of water on three bricks (or would have, but Maya beat me to it), put some coconut palm fronds underneath, and wait for the temple fire to make its way to me. The temple has an eternal flame, and every one of the 4 million fires was lit from that flame. The fronds are folded in half and allowed to stick out, then pushed in a little at a time as they burn down. Maya, middle, and Naishnavi mess around while I get ready to burn! I ended up with sore thighs from doing hundreds of deep knee bends. The fire also creates a decent amount of smoke…times[…]

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