Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Temples of Madurai and The Driver that Swindled Us

We move from one temple city to another. Madurai is the third largest city in the state of Tamil Nadu. It is well known for its historical monuments and temples especially the Meenakshi Amman temple. It is dedicated to the Hindu goddess, Parvati (Meenakshi) and her consort, Sundareshwar (Shiva). It houses 14 gopurams or gateway towers. The temple attracts 15,000 visitors a day. There are an estimated 33,000 sculptures in the temple. This is our last destination, so aunty books a really nice hotel for us. We enter the room and it is like a King's lounge. A dressing table and mirror on one side, a huge king size bed, a transparent tub in the washroom, dim lighting, 10 pillows and soft towels and toiletries on the bed. 

This was more than heaven. I lay flat on the bed with my hands stretched out for a long time, like Leonardo's Vitruvian Man. The ceiling is also painted. It looks like a fresco. I could look at this ceiling wall all day. I am pushed aside by my aunt's daughter. Not fair. I then go and explore the room further. The view from the window of our room is not too bad. You cannot get everything right. Some huge buildings cover our view of the city landscape. Stupid huge buildings. But back in the room, we were in seventh heaven. We order in with room service and spend the night, dancing to bollywood songs and chatting. One of those nights, you wish never ended.

I don't feel like getting up the next day. This should not happen. I cannot be lazy on this trip. This is my big back packing - finding myself journey across the country. Get up you lazy moron. I hear myself shooting in my head. Five minutes more, enlightenment can wait for some time. I sleep for another half an hour. I am woken up by my aunt and she tells me I have a few minutes to get ready. We have to leave for the Meenakshi Amman temple. What! I start running around the room, take a shower, brush, get ready and am out of here. Fifteen minutes from bed to breakfast table. Man, I'm good. We can wear non- traditional clothes at this temple. There are 14 large gopurams or gateway towers at this temple. They are shaped like long pyramid structures. Mounted on it are little idols of deities. 

Each idol sequence seems to be narrating a story. Many of these stories are related to the temple goddess, Meenakshi. We enter the temple, and a man that looked like one of the temple priest approached us. He spoke about a temple trust and why our donation to it was important. He said he would take us to the main prayer room and we wouldn't have to stand in the line. We followed him naively. He leaves us with another priest and takes rupees five hundred from us. This new priest take us to the puja room of the temple and after we take the Lord's blessings, presents a plate to us and asks us for more money. He narrates some words in Tamil that I do not seem to understand. Aunty gives him another five hundred rupees. I wish she did not do that. We are here to pray, not to make large donations to unsolicited demanders. I was quite disappointed with the treatment we underwent at the temple. But keeping that aside, the Meenakshi Amman temple, is easily one of the most beautiful temples in India. Ponds of water for devotees to sit around are present inside the temple compound. We also visited a museum of temple artifacts, paintings and sculptors that was another highlight of our visit there.

The street around the temple is a busy scene. Temple artifacts are sold and traded here. We spent some time exploring the goods at the store and then headed back to our hotel to catch our afternoon bus to Chennai. When we reach the bus station, our driver come guide, creates a scene. Mr Muchad is a bad man. A very bad man. How unfortunate. He demands more money from us for his services. We told him that all the payment had already been given to his parent company. But he insisted, and aunty gave him the amount frustrated. I wish I could just punch him in the face, before he left. It is an AC Volvo bus, so that was a definite relief. We reach Chennai, in the evening and stay at one of aunty's relatives homes. Early next morning, aunty and her daughter drop me at a nearby bus station. This is the end of our journey together. I hug aunty and thank her for everything she has done for me. I have to catch a bus to Pondicherry and an alternate community I planned to explore there. This should be fun.

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