Thursday, April 24, 2008

Meenakshi Temple

I got up super-early to beat the crowds (and the touts) at Meenakshi temple, "one of South India's finest" (Lonely Planet thinks that virtually everything is "one of the finest examples" of its kind), and was at the temple at 7:30. Yes, really.

Unfortunately the temple's main features, the mighty gopura (entrance towers), are under renovation of some sort and clad in palm-leaf matting, so I was unable to glimpse the "riot of carved dieties and mythical creatures" that the tourist pamphlet assures me cover them.

I wandered around for nearly an hour. Not that there was all that much to see, despite the vastness of the complex, as many areas are off-limits to non-Hindus. So I was mostly confined to the cavernous, pillar-lined, musty corridors. All Hindu temples have this distinctive musty smell - the smell of centuries, of faded jasmine, of old incense, of, er, rancid butter (devotees burn ghee candles to their deities, and some carvings are smeared with a mixture of ghee and kumkum coloured powder).

This early in the morning most of the visitors are pilgrims, and the corridors are fairly quiet save for the clink-clink of a lady's anklets, and the ommmm of the morning puja (prayer) being performed at the numerous shrines.

At one shrine I was accosted by a lady wanting to stick a bindi on me. I instinctively shied away, but she smilingly assured me, "no money, I am working temple" and I let her apply the velveteen dot to my forehead.

I came upon the Thousand-Pillar Hall, which houses a small art museum charging a separate entry fee of 5R. I refused to buy a second camera ticket (having already purchased one for 50R at the temple entrance, alongside my 50R entry fee), so I couldn't take any pictures of the elaborately carved pillars (there aren't really a thousand, but it's not far off - 986 according to the guidebook. I wasn't going to personally verify the count). In Hindu architecture, pillars tend to be square or rectangular rather than round, and those at the entrance and lining the central avenue were adorned with larger-than-lifesize gods and goddesses and mythological creatures. My particular favourite was one goddess, depicted resplendent and proud, perched atop her trusty steed, a magnificent duck. Elsewhere fang-toothed demons, helium-breasted dancers and weird dragon-lions watched me pass.

Meandering through the corridors trying to find the gate through which I entered (my shoes were there), I found myself in the entrance hall to the Shiva sanctum. Shiva is often represented simply by a lingam (phallic symbol) and his steed, the bull Nandi. But here he is personified in various poses. I remember the first time I saw an image of the Nataraja (depiction of Shiva dancing on a vanquished demon). It was an 18-inch bronze in the British museum or some such place, and I recall my immediate thought being, "are you sure that's a man?" He does look very girly, but the Nataraja is always sculpted so gracefully that it's become one of my favourite Hindu images.


At 4:28 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has been a row over Lonely Planet writers making up a lot of rubbish about places they have never visited. One of them admitted he just took the money and made it all up. Dddy

At 10:59 am, Blogger Claudia said...

Hey Shalotte!! :)

Remember me? I've just had your blog address again from Sarah, which I lost (along with hers) a while ago when I changed jobs. BUt it's now in a safe place in my google reader... and will be able to better keep up with you girl. I can't believe you're still over there!!


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