Madurai Experience . .
This is my continuation of the posting "Whoring the Gods !".
After a two and a half hour bus ride in the hot sun from Pazhani to Madurai, we got down from the bus near the world famous Meenakshi Temple. The bus conductor, a nice man stopped the bus at a crossing (where the bus doesnt stop usually) so we could just go straight to the temple. Thinking that our luck had started changing, we went to "New College House". Once again, Chitappa was right. This place was closing at 2:00 PM. We entered at 1:50 PM , but were welcomed at the door. What followed was amazing. Rose milk, unlimited rice with sambar, rasam, curry , kootu, papad, vatha kozhambu, curd, sweet desert, ice cream and to top it off a banana and beeda all for 40 rupees (90 cents)!!!. We ate like it was our last meal and went to the hotel lobby. We were very tired and our next temple stop was going to open only at 4 PM. We killed two hours just watching a huge fish tank with large catfish in the lobby discussing the fate of temple towns. At 4:00 PM we decided to start for the second Lord muruga shrine of Thirupparankundram !!
Another amazing Temple . .
This temple has the gods carved directly on a mountain face. So the temple literally is joined to the mountain and has a pond cut directly into the lake. Unlike typical hindu temples where you can circle around the deity , this temple goes into the stone face !
Once again, we saw how all the priests were asking us for dakshina and how security guards were refusing to let us past unless we paid them five or ten rupees. It was a crying shame. But one amazing experience was Paddu and me feeding the fishes in the pond. There must have been a million fish and the temple pond was so calm and serene. The entire place was cooler by 10 degrees compared to the outside heat. We also saw a teacher in a white robe with a bunch of kids surrounding him at one of the gurukul ashrams in the temple (resident school for kids) and it reminded me of a shepard and a flock of sheep. The kids looked extremely happy. On our way out of the temple Paddu decided to feed the temple elephant a dozen bananas. I thought a few photographs of the feeding would absolutely thrill my two year old daughter and I took my camera out. A little boy ran out and said "50 rupees for Camera fees!". I told him that we were not inside the temple but were outside the premises and he shouldnt be charging me for taking photographs on the street. He insisted that the elephant was the main draw for photographers and it was temple policy to collect camera fee for photographing the elephant. I got furious and told him that it was not my policy to pay for taking pictures on the street and shut down my camera. After seeing the elephant I started missing my daughter and we decided to get back to Madurai and call Chennai to see how everyone was doing .. I decided to photograph a huge goat that was tied to a one of the poles outside the temple instead . . my daughter will understand her daddy !!
Sundar Err's .. Big time
When we came to Madurai I made the mistake of changing to shorts (my Jarigai veshti was dirty by now and I didnt want to lose it). To top things off I had my backpack with me. Our plan was to go to the temple directly and then go to the train station to catch the 8:30 to Chennai. Paddu gave me another lecture on how I might have as well painted a big red Target sign on my back ! I told him to keep quiet and we walked on. By this time we had both walked through two huge temples and were very tired and dehydrated. We walked into Meenakshi temple and made our way to the Meenakshi. .
What has this place come to ?
The last time I had visited Meenakshi temple was ten years ago in June 1995. The temple going experience then was a pleasant one. I still had a backpack and wore shorts then ! The magestic gopuram and the statues on the gopuram rushed back a flood of memories of the previous trip. We saw the long line to enter into the sanctum and decided to buy a ten rupee fast track ticket which had a shorter line. When I say shorter I mean relatively shorter. There were still a hundred people ahead of us in the line. The guy at the entrance must be a multi-millionaire was our thought. He was juggling the two lines and a third line that was hidden to the normal people. I made a passing comment about how Ganga and Jamuna are joined by an underground Saraswati river in Allahabad ! Apparently people who come in tourist buses on paid tours (time bound) get to go directly to the sanctum spend a few seconds there (get a fleeting glance of the deity) and are whisked away. This was the hidden line ! Our special ticket line wasnt moving any faster than the regular line and this frustrated a lot of people who were complaining about how their ten rupees was not well spent. Paddu and myself on the other hand were getting worried about missing our train. It was already 7:00 PM and we couldnt move out of this line. The only way out was to go finish our ordeal, see the godess and exit.
Miracle or Curse ?
When we came to the head of the line, there were two or three priests and two temple staff members. The priests were brahmin priests who looked like seasoned veterans in their late 40's early 50's. One of the priests told the other one "onnoda party vandhirukku. Thallikinu po.".
This is literally what pimps tell their prostitues in movies. Your customer has arrived, give him what he needs ! Considering the fact that we really didnt know any of the priest there we figured out that each priest targets people in the line and know whom to take in to collect a bribe. Unfortunately we were being taken in to see Meenakshi herself !! I felt giddy after I heard that and my brother was almost in tears. But we had no choice but to go in with that priest and doorman. Without blinking we gave them what they wanted saw the deity dressed in all her finery and walked out. Before walking out I told her that this would be my last visit to her home and I registered her image in my head. I told my brother that this was "it". No more temple trips when I come to India. He was still defensive. Why dont you say "this is my last temple trip in India wearing shorts and carrying a backpack" ? I told him, backpack or otherwise, temples are not great just because some king built a collosus few hundred or few thousand years back. Temples will loose their greatness when the people who are allowed inside commit sacrilege under gods roof. It was raining heavily outside but we managed to catch our train 10 minutes before departure..
With a heavy heart we said goodbye to Madurai and the Meenakshi temple. Recently there has been a push by leading tamil magazines, to make this the 8th wonder of the modern world because the temple has a hall with a thousand pillars. What is more wonderful is that Meenakshi still manages to smile in spite of what is being done to her..
Does she really know ?