Thursday, January 27, 2005

Om Namah Shivayah!

I slept like a log and woke up totally BUZZing with excitement at the prospect of another day in Chennai. Colin, however, fared less well at the hands of mozzies and jetlag. Still, after yesterday's (wonderfully) busy day I was more than happy to take it a bit easier. We still arranged to meet with our auto driver Suresh (pronounced Syoo-reesh) at 9am for some sightseeing.

FIrst on my list was Kapaleeshwarar Temple, a magnificent Dravidian style Shaivite Temple in the Mylapore district of Chennai. Suresh told us to leave our sandals in the auto to prevent them being stolen, and off we went barefoot across the street to the temple, our first unguided truly Indian experience. We went through the Gopuram and were standing there reading a placque that tells us all about the temple.

Next thing, Suresh appeared with some ash for our foreheads and proceded to give us a guided tour (in his broken English, understandable and far better than my severely broken Tamil). He started by shooing off a man who tried to tell us photography was not allowed, when in fact it is only not allowed in the inner shrine (which is not a problem, as neither are non-Hindu's).

The first shrine ahead of the Gopuram is to Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva.

As we walked round in a clockwise direction (not sure if this is ritual, clockwise seems to be favoured in some Hindu tradition) there were a number of weddings (6 or 7) going on to the left, very noisy and colourful. It was at this point that we picked up 3 "muggers" - not the kind who rob you and threaten your life, but 3 young Tamil boys who were repeatedly saluting us with the Sacred Universal Mantra, "Hi!" as I tried to capture the vibrant colours of this place on my camcorder. I returned their greetings with a "Vannakam" (Tamil greeting, used here instead of the "Namaste" or "Namaskar" so prevalent throughout the rest of India) and also a "How do you do?", but their English was even more restricted than my Tamil and they ran off. It was not the last we saw of their brilliant white smiles for sure, but it was great to be the recipients of such positive attention.

The main shrine to Shiva is accessed by a door that faces the rear of the temple, which has a large golden pillar called a Flag, and also a Nandi Bull, which is the Guardian and Protector of Shiva.

Suresh then disappeared, and we figured that he had gone inside to pray. He appeared shortly after with two yellow flowers, and gave them to us, telling us to put them inside our packs. It didn't click at the time, but I now realise that he went inside to retrieve us a souvenir from the feet of the Shiva idol inside! And I'm not planning to ask either - ignorance is bliss, but just in case his actions have earned me some negative karma, a little invocation to Shiva never goes amiss!