19 May 2008

Kuwago's Flights: Southern India's Temples

A blogging hiatus, borne out of an extremely hectic work and travel schedule, has hopefully come to an end. With a wealth of photos and stories from the past few months, I have enough material to continue churning blog entries for weeks. Reluctant to write due to lack of practice and mental conditioning, I have decided that I will break out of my chains of procrastination.

Sure, I could have blogged all this time, I did have the means. I guess it was the workload and the focus required on the tasks at hand.

I do still have work to complete, definitely, but I am still going to start blogging again.

Here we go....


During a previous trip to India, I noticed that there was so much about the spiritual aspect of Indian tradition that captured my fancy and interest that I would purposely explore as much temples as I could during my next trip. Being somewhere at the heart of the Indian psyche, I was convinced that it is one of the most colorful and intricate aspects of their culture.

Our quest started at Chennai, near the GRT Temple Bay Resort in Mamallapuram where we were booked. My colleagues and I attempted to visit the Shore Temple. It is said to be one of the oldest temples in Southern India, built around the same time as the structures carved out of solid boulders the place is known for.

From the beach of the Temple Bay Resort, you can see the Shore Temple in the distance. We attempted to see the temple up close, so we decided to make our way there. If not for annual fishermen's festival which was happening on that day, we would have been able to take a boat ride off the coast. This did not quite appeal to me, remembering that on this same area, a Tsunami hit a few years ago.

On the way, we stopped at a few carvings made hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago on the side of these huge boulders. There is a story behind these carvings, which I will write about in the coming days. It is a very interesting one, which may even help those who are in search of their own spirituality.

We passed by a few minor temples on the way to the shore temple, but when we got there, it was already closed for the day. This was my second attempt to get in. The first was last year. I guess it was just not the right time for me.

What we ended up doing was to hang out by the beach, where I attempted to get as close as possible to the Shore Temple. Unfortunately, it was too dark to make out the structure, and even my camera could not take a snapshot of it despite the flash. It was still too far from the fence. There were hundreds of people on the night beach, whiling away the time, in a carneval-like setting with vendors, parlour games and horse-back riding available.

The following day, we managed to whisk by the ISKCON Temple on our way to the City. The main building was under construction, and I suspect for a long time now. We did, however, get to talk to some Krishna devotees and promised to come back when we had more time. We never did get the chance to return.

After a 250km road trip to Pondicherry, we visited the Manakula Vinayaka Temple, situated near the beach. There is an ashram next to the temple, but entry is prohibited to outsiders, at least at the time we were there.

I was surprised to see a real, live elephant at the entrance to the temple. It was my first time to actually come this close to an elephant. I remember seeing some at the Manila Zoo when I was very young, but that was about it -- a glance. For a rupee, which you hand over to the elephant by way of his trunk, he will bless you by tapping on your head. I could have sworn that he was trying to constantly ask me to walk up closer to him, but then you couldn't really tell.

The following day, I read on the local newspaper that RFID tags were installed on these elephants by the government as the cases of elephant theft were on the rise. Wow, I thought, how one could possibly steal an elephant and get away with it...

I really enjoy going through all the merchandise sold outside temple doors'. It not only offers a variety of items of fancy, but by asking about objects you are not familiar with, you also satisfy your curiosity and end up learning some bits of information that are oftentimes both interesting and amazing.

A trip to Pondicherry, a former French colony, is never complete without a visit to Auroville. It is a community founded by the "Mother", based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. The tenets of Auroville strike me at the onset as extremely idealistic, similar to that of a "Hippie Commune", but quite interestingly seem to be implemented properly. It is meant as a place for everyone, regardless of race, creed or religion. The area is huge, where orgnanic farming and an environmentally conscious lifestyle are practiced. It is a place where the values of peace, harmony, sustainable living and spirituality are espoused. Auroville is still a work in progress, which started in the 1960s, and continues with much intensity to this day.

Athe heart of Auroville is the Matrimandir, a meditation center in the Peace Zone which has been designed carefully and built from Gold discs. It is considered as the "Soul of the City". I was told that computers constanly focus the rays of the sun from the top, on a central crystal ball that distributes light throughout the interior of the Matrimandir. The effect, they say, is magical. I did not have the chance to get in this time around. Maybe next time.

The size of the Matrimandir must not be underestimated, for each of these angular structures to its side is a meditation hall on its own.

We also visited the Kailash Nadaraj Temple, located not far from Auroville. It is set by the sea, and houses the diety Needaraja. There was a Holy Man or Priest that was performing some prayers when we arrived, so we naturally took some blessings from him.

As usual with most temples in India, you are not allowed to take photographs inside, which accounts for my lack of colorful snapshots of temple interiors. We are, however, allowed to take photographs from the outside, and it was fortunate for us that the deity was set not too far inside the structure that our photographs were able to capture its metallic beauty from the outside.

At the Velliangiri (White Mountain) Temple compound, located in the cluster of mountains we originally intended to set out for, we had to walk barefoot for a short distance before reaching the minor temple. That is another common regulation when entering any temple in India -- entering barefoot from the entrance. The stony flooring made it difficult for me in the beginning, but once I got used to it, it became quite enjoyable actually. For every visit to a temple, you have to take blessings from the Holy Men that offer them from the presiding dieties. This is where you get your forehead painted with Holy Powder.

The difficulty of walking barefoot on rock-tattered soil eventually made me decide against making the climb to the White Mountain Temple, including the information that in addition to being a very, very long and ardorous climb, the climb would eventually be void of steps, only a mountainside path. If I had made it to the top, I was told that I would have been able to taste the sweetest water in India, Siruvani Water-- Not the bottled varieties which only carry the name, but the real thing. These days, I was told, it is difficult to obtain real Siruvani Water. I would have had some, if I had made the climb. I was also told that the temple at the top of the mountain would have been closed anyway.

Besides, I always make it a point to pace myself when on a long trip. No sense in falling ill or being unable to perform because you overtaxed yourself.

This Baba was waiting for the precise opportunity to climb up the mountain himself, the temple only being open to devotees 2 months of the entire year. The time was drawing closer, but sadly not at the time I was there. In the meantime, the Babas were spending their time practicing humility by seeking for alms, and selling authentic Ayurvedic herbal cures.

The temple compound was teeming with devotees and holy men, all coming in the hope of receiving the blessings of Lord Muruga.

I was urged by my companions to have my fortune told. It was amazing to see a tiny parrot take a card from the deck for the seer to read my fortune from. He also augmented the reading by studying my palm. Surprisingly, his account of my life so far was extremely accurate. By his description, my future looks rosy and blessed. Time will tell if his predictions are accurate. Of course, who wouldn't want to live until 98?

At the nearby Dhyana Linga Temple of the Isha Yoga Center, we were briefed by a Swami prior to allowing us to roam the grounds freely. We were told that in this place, it did not matter what religion you were from. I was reminded by my inner voice that we are all children of the same God, regardless of anything.

This is the place where people go to cleanse their minds and bodies. The continuously-flowing water in the pool comes from the nearby mountains, which keeps them cool. At the center of the pool is a steel orb filled with Mercury. It is said to weigh a few dozen kilos. We were told that the benefits to the self may be attained by swimming to the center of the pool and touching the orb. I decided I would simply wade around in the shallow portion of the pool. Some say you gain the same benefits as the rest anyway, and I didn't feel I needed any inner cleansing at that point. I genuinely believe I am at peace with myself and my creator.

We then proceeded to the temple itself, where we made an offering prior to sitting in front of the Linga, a representation of the divine, simply to connect. The offering consisted of a lotus flower, some other leaves, herbs and ghee.

At the corridor leading to the temple hall, there were many sights to behold, including sculptures, structures and other interesting people. Since no photographs were allowed, I could only describe my impression of how much the things I saw resembled Taoist and Buddhist symbols.
What I expected the Linga to be, was nothing like what I saw. Here is a picture of a photograph of the Linga, which I took at the gift shop. It is supposed to be a unification of the energy of man and woman, a representation of the divine. Someone told me it is meant to represent a phallus. I have no idea if he was serious, though.

All throughout the center, you see the symbolism of the snake abound. The devotees and swamis wear rings representing the snake. The swami explained that it is the symbol of the Kundalini or divine energy descended from Heaven. I remember my former teacher teaching me of this. It was apparently deeply rooted in the Hindu culture.

Still in Pondicherry, we visited the Perur Temple dedicated primarily to Lord Shiva. I am quite disappointed for not being able to capture the numerous sights, smells and sounds Iexperienced there, through my camera, still being prohibited. I had to be thankful for the fact that a non-Hindu such as myself was already granted entry, so I definitely did not want to abuse my privilege. I did read on more than one occassion that non-Hindus were not allowed in some temples. Here is all I was able to take of the entrance of the temple.

And the last stop, another plane ride away, was the ISKCON Coimbatore Temple.

ISKCON is more commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement, due to their constant chanting of the Holy Names of God: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. It is a practice recognized by the ancient Vedas, steeped in the Vaishnava religion, and brought to the west by Srila Prabhupada.

This aspect of my trip, the visits to the various temples of South India, is just a small part of my overall journey, and although I know I cannot fully transmit to you the wide spectrum of satisfaction I experienced, I will at least try. Watch for my next installment.


backpacking philippines and asia said...

i'm also fascinated by India, land of contrasts. wasn't able to visit Chennai, only Mumbai in 2004.

looking forward to your next installment. will also link you up

Ang Kuwago said...

Hi Tutubi,

Thanks for dropping by! You, of all people, know what travel is about and how mere words and pictures fail to capture the true essence of a place.

Do find the time to travel to Southern India. I find it more closer to its past, being more orthodox and conservative.

I envy how you can spend so much time on the enjoyable side of travelling. I have to squeeze it into my work.

Oh well. As long as we get to travel!



JayAshKal said...

Hi Kuwago,

You certainly made up for your long absence with this longgg post! Pictures are great, wish I could make time to travel South of India... it is one big country!

Ang Kuwago said...

Hi Kuyang,

Do find time to travel to India, but make sure you do so with help from a local. It makes it so much more convenient and enjoyable. In fact, I would recommend that a local be with you at all times. And do plan ahead carefully. There is just to much to see, hear, taste and experience. It can be truly magical, Kuyang.

If only we could do just about everything we wanted to, noh?

More Light to You!

Dave Q said...

Wow! I love your India adventure. I hope to visit India soon.

Ang Kuwago said...


Thanks for dropping by. Let me know when you plan to go to India, I will help you plan it out well.

And who knows, I may also be there then.

Which reminds me: I found a cheap way to go to India. I'll post about it soon.