Thursday, December 17, 2015

Trivandrum – Peer Influence and Temple Blessings

As my two companions go off to sleep that night, I sit on the couch and play some light music on my laptop. It is 2 am, on the 5th Floor of a hotel in Trivandrum. How in the world did I end up here? Where did I go wrong? I don't even know what I did wrong. Why am I even thinking about all this? This trip has been the best thing that has happened to me over the past three to four years. These most uncertain years of my life, transitioning between late adolescence and adulthood. Family, School, Peers and Solitude are the four major influences in an adolescents life. The first three are external determinants. The last aspect an internal determinant. 

For a long time, most of my actions were largely based on what the external determinants demanded of me. Recently, I have realized that the internal determinant, is equally if not more important than the first three. I was very uncomfortable being alone. I was scared I would get bored and then would not know what to do. Boredom was a sign, of my engagement in tasks that did not engage me. But I had no autonomy and control over my time. I had to go to school, I had to be around family and I was largely influenced by the peers that surrounded me. I gave these aspects more importance, than who I actually was as an individual. Thus, I had to jump and often change identities. I had no set definition of who I was. I was a different person with my peers and a different person at home. 

This created a lot of conflict within me. Why do people's expectations of you, keep changing? Why do we humans have so many mood changes? You can never predict accurately, what this other person you care for, is thinking about. One day they want something, the next they want another thing. Urgh, human relationships are such a pain. I wish I did not have to depend on other people so much. Maybe this will happen, when I have a field of interest, I am really passionate about. Eventually I need to get the education and skills, to make this field of interest my career and life goal. Then I will be free from all those external determinants. I will have something I have control over. It is so much better than relationships that have these ups and downs often.

I doze off on the couch, that night.

I am woken up, by the chatter of my traveling companions. My aunt and her daughter are getting ready. We plan to go to the mighty Shri Padmanabhan Temple, here in Trivandrum. There is a legend associated with the temple. The Maharaja of Travancore conquered several rich neighboring towns and made a large fortune from trade of spices in the eighteenth century. He donated large amounts of wealth to the temple for its development. The temple is considered one of the richest Hindu temples in the world. The principal deity of the temple is Lord Vishnu. Every male devotee must wear  traditional clothing, to enter the temple. So aunty helps me put on my traditional outfit. After some light breakfast, at the cafeteria downstairs, we head to the temple.

The first thing I observe, as we enter the temple compound, is the unique style of architecture that most temples in South India have. This temple was also built based on the Dravidian architectural model, that mainly comprises pyramid type structures built of sandstone, granite or soapstone. Stone murals that represent an object or story from the myths of the temple deity. What fascinated me most about the structure, was how inconsistent some of the stone murals carved on the structure were. On one side of the pyramid structure, there would be two little boys playing, on the other side there would be a farmer and his cattle. Above this stone mural, there would be a carving of a king with his subjects in a courtroom. It was like there was a story, that was being told through these stone carvings. I just wanted to observe and understand each of the murals on the pyramid tops of these temples. They were just so beautiful. Later I find out, that the Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Prambanan in Indonesia were built based on Dravida Architecture.

We buy a plate of prasad and offerings, deposit our chapals at the gate and walk in. The black stone floor feels cold on the sole of your foot. You feel instantly dwarfed as you enter the temple. The hollow top of the temple above you, adds to the grandiose of the environment. We are guided to a line for devotees. It starts at a point, and then moves ahead in a zig zag pattern, divided by steel stands. Everyone is dressed in a similar way.  Men in lungs and women in saris. Electric Fans and Steel containers of drinking water are placed at periodic intervals. The line moves ahead at a very slow pace. Every step bringing you closer, to the main prayer area. An hour later, we take a turn into a new room and I feel we have reached the prayer room. But then we enter the room, and I see another six lanes of people, waiting to enter another room up ahead. We reach the prayer room, and i see the priests up front, taking the plates of devotees and putting a red powder like substance on each devotee's head in return. We keep walking ahead and then our turn comes. The structure of the temple deity can be seen upfront. I fold my hands in respect, and say a silent prayer. 

We walk away after getting our blessings, a red powder mark in the middle of our foreheads. It was quite the experience. We click a picture in front of the temple and then get into our car. As we leave the compound, I see the temple structure become smaller in the distance, until it disappears along with the little dot like people entering it for the lord's blessing.


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