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  • Day9

    The Final Temple

    November 29, 2017 in India ⋅ ⛅ 3 °C

    Here are pictures from our visit to the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai on Wednesday, 11/29. This is an enormous complex, 60 acres, built in the early 1600s. The other temples we have been to so far have a shrine to one of the major gods, Shiva or Vishnu. This one is unique as it honors both the god Shiva and his wife, the goddess, Pavarotti. This is a major stopping point for pilgrims on their way to the final temple destination in Kerala. 20 million pilgrims pass through this temple each month.

    As we entered the first gate, we pass through a long busy market area selling all kinds of items associated with temple and religious practice here and at home—threads soaked in yellow turmeric; small tubs of red and saffron colored paste to mark the forehead; packets of cow dung ashes to sprinkle over the ‘minor’ god statues in their alcoves; tiny bowls of hardened ghee (clarified butter) with a fabric wick to light at the god statues; and of course garlands of flowers to thread into women’s hair and use as god offerings.

    As non-Hindus we are not permitted to enter the shrines within the temple honoring Shiva and Pavarotti, however there is plenty to keep us busy. This temple is a beehive of activity. We came across a bangle ceremony where the women family members of a pregnant woman place glass bangles on her arm creating a light tinkling noise that is supposed to be good for the baby.

    We passed by half a dozen marriage ceremonies. Mostly the young girl looking serious and apprehensive and the groom with a big smile on his face. Arranged marriages are still the norm. Even if the bride and groom know each other, the family history and horoscope of each must be evaluated to make sure it is an ‘auspicious’ match before the marriage can be approved.

    This is the 10th temple we have visited on this trip. Each one was significant, historic, different, and interesting. The Meenakshi Amman Temple feels like finally arriving in St. Peter’s Basilica after seeing all the other beautiful churches in Rome.

    Our guide Jay is very generous in sharing his experience and knowledge of the culture. He has been a tour manager for 28 years and is originally from south India, the state of Kerala which is our final destination. Here are a few more interesting things about marriage that he shared with us (I hope I have captured this correctly).

    It has become the trend, at least in the the state of Tamil Nadu where we have been traveling, for the friends of the groom to produce large billboards and posters that they mount all over town to announce the marriage. It will be a picture of the bride and groom (the brides photo is often photo-shopped in since the bride and groom may not physically meet until just before the wedding day). The men who are giving this billboard as their wedding gift have their photos also displayed at the bottom in super life-size. The government is trying to dissuade this practice since there are so many weddings and the plastic billboards produce so much trash. The Indian equivalent of ‘moment of fame’ perhaps?

    Weddings are a large financial and ‘political’ investment as tradition dictates that everyone the bride and groom and their parents know in each village, at work, all family and friends—and the families of all of those—must be welcomed. An average wedding in a small village will have 800-1000 guests. A well-to-do wedding will often hire a producer and the wedding will seem more like a Bollywood production than a vow exchange, with several thousands of people invited and all expenses picked up by the bride and groom and their parents.
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