My Load is Lightened






What should have been simple…simple? What were we thinking of? In India, is anything simple? A four hour bus ride to the next town turned into a day of trying to find the right bus with no one speaking English – one man points in one direction, one man in another. Finally we take a bus part of the way, and have to repeat the same exercise to reach our destination, Kumbakonam. We have come only to see examples of Tamil Nadu temples.

At Swaminathan’s suggestion we hire a car and driver for a day to visit seven temples located in the countryside around the town. Our driver arrives in an immaculate white Ambassador, titled “Black Moon”, with a furling pendant stately positioned on the hood of the car – a warning to all other lesser vehicles to acknowledge our status and make way. Unfortunately the car has more personality than our driver. Granted he does not speak English, but we have been in similar situations and still managed to be familiar without the need for language.

The temples of Tamil Nadu are famous for their unique architecture and importance as places of pilgrimage.They stand out for their soaring gateway towers, and intricately carved pillars. There may be multiple shrines, but the central one is an inner sanctum often housed in a building located in the middle of the complex (Hindus only allowed). Flanking the entrance are two large stone carved deities protecting the idol. The edifice of the building and interior are intricately carved out of granite. Since many of these temples are a thousand years old, one wonders how it was possible for the artisans to see what they were doing in these cavernous interiors, probably working only with the illumination of smoky butter lamps.
Two temples that stand out are Sri Abirami – huge and cavernous, over the top in its colorful decorations and bustling with activity to the point where western tourists pass unnoticed. The other, more remote, is quite the opposite. The temple is simple, tranquil and the unpainted architecture glowed in the golden light of the setting sun. Equally enjoyable was just being in the country, driving down lanes that we would otherwise not have been able to reach. It was a bit of a splurge, but worth it.

On the way back to the city, we make a prearranged stop at the house of Swaminathan’s elderly parents. (The reach of our Indian family extends further than had known.) “Please make two very old people happy by stopping for idli,” he pleads with us. We have no problem in obliging. His eighty-something year old father who can speak some English greets us. He is sitting in the middle of a large unfurnished room save for several plastic chairs, Simply dressed in a white waistcloth matching his snow white hair, his skin is dark, his eyes bright and alert. He beckons to us to sit opposite him and then as Gerard engages in conversation, he moves his chair closer to hear Gerard better. They discuss the temples and he comments, “There is no way that these temples could be built today; the knowledge is lost.” It is true, as time progresses, architecture becomes cheaper and cheesier.

Two temples that stand out are Sri Abirami – huge and cavernous, over the top in its colorful decorations and bustling with activity to the point where western tourists pass unnoticed. The other, more remote, is quite the opposite. The temple is simple, tranquil and the unpainted architecture glowed in the golden light of the setting sun. Equally enjoyable was just being in the country, driving down lanes that we would otherwise not have been able to reach. It was a bit of a splurge, but worth it.

On the way back to the city, we make a prearranged stop at the house of Swaminathan’s elderly parents. (The reach of our Indian family extends further than had known.) “Please make two very old people happy by stopping for idli,” he pleads with us. We have no problem in obliging. His eighty-something year old father who can speak some English greets us. He is sitting in the middle of a large unfurnished room save for several plastic chairs, Simply dressed in a white waistcloth matching his snow white hair, his skin is dark, his eyes bright and alert. He beckons to us to sit opposite him and then as Gerard engages in conversation, he moves his chair closer to hear Gerard better. They discuss the temples and he comments, “There is no way that these temples could be built today; the knowledge is lost.” It is true, as time progresses, architecture becomes cheaper and cheesier.

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