Day,1-Meenakshi Temple-Madurai

I have read travel blogs. Tried to understand why people write travel blogs.

Will unravel the reasons over the next few blogs.

I started off with my parents in a spacious vehicle on a warm Monday morning. I was looking forward to driving the vehicle that we had hired. As luck would have it, we had a seasoned driver with us. I took one look at him and did not dare ask him for the car keys. He just wasn’ t the type.

We had a long 7 hour journey head of us and spent the first few hours in a boisterous mood of pleasant banter,…about all and sundry. Like some of my mail conversations,…soon there was nothing to talk about and the mind wandered to the scenery visible through tinted windows. The body eased itself into the most comfortable position given the leg space available and the ergonomics that the seats afforded. This was followed by insidious and pernicious yawns. In a matter of two hours the driver was the only one awake in the van. Given that it was an air conditioned van, the driver was doing a very good job of staying awake.

We reached Madurai in the wee hours of the day and headed straight for the Temple. It was the Sabarimala season and devotees of Swami Ayyappa were everywhere. For the uninitiated, Swami Ayyappa is the union of Shiva (Hari) and Vishnu (Haran). Swami Ayyappan was born like Lord Rama, for the purpose of riddance. Predictably, he performs miracles, kills the villain and grants a boon to his caretaker when he is ready to leave. The caretaker, a King, King Rajasekhara, wants to raise a temple in his memory. This temple on the banks of the river Pampa in Kerala, is thronged by people in the month of January, the Mahasankhranthi.

With these devotees everywhere, we were finding it difficult to park our vehicle. We went around the temple twice even before we had set foot into the temple. We finally found a parking space in a by-lane. It was 8 p.m even before we had entered the temple. I had been to this temple on at-least three other occasions and it was interesting that there was so much that I had missed in all those 3 occasions.

The temple is shaped like a square, with ‘Gopuras’ on all four sides. They surround the main structures of the temple called the ‘Garba-griha’, or Sanctum Sanctorum. A usual feature in most Hindu temples in Tamilnadu is the presence of many smaller deities surrounding the Sanctum Sanctorum. They actually remind me of the posters that we have in the aisles of the new age cinema halls, which keep us occupied during the intermission. The Sanctum Sanctorum is again square shaped. There is no straight line path to the Santum Sanctorum. The visitors/ devotees have to go through some detours to reach the Sanctum Sanctorum. Most temples, this temple included, have a small pool within the confines of the temple or in the adjoining area where visitors/ devotees are supposed to perform ablution before seeking divine grace.

The architecture in the temple is a subject in it’s own right. There is both depth and beauty which needs to be understood and relished. The architecture changes depending upon the specific location of the temple. The architecture is different for the Gopuras. The architecture is different for a aisle. The architecture is different in the Sanctum Sanctorum. One observation which needs to be verified is that the architecture reduces in number and intensity(which needs to be defined) as we approach the sanctum sanctorum. The roof level also reduces as we approach the Sanctum Sanctorum. The level of illumination also reduces as we approach the Sacntum Sanctorum. Most of these temples also have some structure to prevent a glimpse of the deity from outside the temple. The visitor/ devotee has to go through the corridors of the temples and only then be able to gain a glimpse of the deity. A lot of thought has obviously been put, to make the visitor/ devotee realise certain truths. This might take some time.

Every temple has an offering, called prasad which is usually a sweet. It would be worthwhile to realise that sweets are rich in simple sugars to offer a quick boost of energy after a long haul. It is customary that devotees sit down for some time after the ‘Darshan’. It is interesting that visitors/ devotees are offered ‘prasad’ and then asked to rest, after a period of reducing oxygen levels given the constant ‘pujas’ and resultant smoky interiors of the Sanctum Sanctorum. Very interesting.

I sat down for meditation inside the Sanctum Sanctorum. The people within the Sanctum Sanctorum were asking people to avoid lingering for long as there were people waiting outside for ‘Darshan’. Nobody disturbed me given that I was meditating. I was lost, but there. Just like I was taught.

Some more, for the few yet to come.

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Two Rotis!

As a regular guy in Mumbai, …tend to get lost in the activities of the minute.

I got down in Nerul and met a few doctors in the area. Was tired and looking for a good restaurant to have some food. I asked the sales representative to suggest some good place which serves palatable vegetarian food. I guess he saw that coming and suggested a place even before I had finished the sentence.

Now, stop for a moment and think about what we expect from food. We expect hygiene. We expect fast service. We expect the rates to be reasonable. We expect the food to be warm and palatable. After staying in bombay for over 8 months, my expectations were bare minimum and limited to decent taste.

I walked into the hotel which was decently clean with the non-ergonomic furniture so characteristic of eating joints in Bombay. The hotel was designed with a mezanine floor to make space for an air conditioned room. This seems to be the norm in most hotels in Bombay. I sauntered to a table towards the right of the hotel and took my place in a table for four. The table was clean and there were boys attending to other tables. A waiter dressed in a white shirt with green embroidery ( the emblem and name of the hotel on it) attended to me and asked for my order. I ordered a veg curry and 2 rotis. I was soon having my second roti.

The waiter looked at me and seemed to be making up his mind about something. I was half way through my second roti when he lloked at me expectantly. I took one more bite from the roti and looked at him to see if he was still lookin at me. He was.

I continued eating and then, I guess the waiter couldn’t control himself any longer, he asked me if the order was for two more rotis. I instinctively said that I was done. The waiter did something which I can remember clearly. He looked at me with an expression of surprise which slowly moved into an expression of genuine concern and selflessness. I have never seen this among any of the scores of waiters at the restaurants that I had been to in Mumbai. He then asked me, “bus do roti,…do aur le lijiye na”. I actually stopped eating for an instant and took one more second to react.

That one second took me away to my hometown in Tamilnadu. That one second reminded me of a word in tamil called ‘Virunthombal’. It might be derived from the tamil word’Virunthu’, meaning feast. It bsacially means hospitality and can be reasoned as offering nothing short of a feast to a guest. In small hotels in interior Tamilnadu, waiters literally wait on you and will ask you if you need some more of food and the delectable which go along with the regular fare. It is a pleasure eating piping hot idlis and sambhar at these places. Need a separate blog on this.

Back to the moment where I am responding to this waiter at the hotel in Nerul. I said this would do. The waiter shaked his head with an expression of ‘I don’t understand these people’ in his face and left for the cashier to get my bill.

I, meanwhile, was both happy that there are some people out there.

27, October, 2005

I am used to procrastination. I believe one of the worst forms of procrastination to be procrastination when you have something interesting to think about. Something strikes you suddenly in the midst of a mundane thought processes. I am thrown on the floor by the process and I gasp for air as I marvel at the ramifications of the thought. Ramifications in so many directions.

I am not able to think of any other reason other than absolute laziness when I choose to think about it later. Sometimes I blame it on the context. I might as well blame it on ‘Rio’. It has happened so many times. The sequential result is that I have lost out on so many ideas.

I luckily remembered it today as I basked in one of those insightful moments. I had read a book by Aldous Huxley once. I particularly remember a line from one his book “Doors of Perception”. Don’t remember the line ditto,…can be paraphrased. It talks about looking at yourself the way other people look at you and looking at others the way they look at themselves. Very interesting. Very difficult too.

This comes in the context of a thought process that I was going thru in class today. The guy was talking about the listening, listening not with your ears, but with your mind, with stillness in the thought process,…to pick up small inflections, reflections,…just about any movement in the mass of thoughts which is floating as words in the air. The point which immediately strikes me is the extent to which we are trained to pick up these vibrations. Then the ramifications of this issue come up in the form of how we actually pick up nuances in our own thought process. We think of so many things in a day and end up taking very few beyond the point of mere conjectures with namesake discussions with other people or with ourselves. I seemed to recollect very few such issues which I had taken up beyond this point. What a waste of time and resources that I should think of so many things which I never end up taking beyond the point of mere conjecture.

The same is happening to the concept that I am just discussing,…I have already digressed.

I need to listen. I need to listen without my tendencies clouding my mind. I need to get rid of vibrations. Vibrations of my thought which colour or sometimes obstruct the idea that is being put forth. I heard something which was interesting in this context. It goes like this,…”The ears are the only customers of the tongue”,…”Sometimes the tongue hear and the ears speak”. Very interesting,..in the sense that new dimensions are added to our understanding of things as ordinary as listening. Maybe that is the difference between hearing and listening. Our ears listen,..whereas ‘we’ listen. We listen to our minds as it tries to fit our tendencies on all that we feel through our sense organs. We are so much under the control of our tendencies. The question is,…why?,…what will follow later.