Friday, September 30, 2011

Oriyur Church, Tamil Nadu

One of the other churches we visited for a short time was the shrine in Oriyur, erected at the site where missionary and saint John De Britto was martyred in 1693. A Portuguese Jesuit priest, De Britto devoted his life to bringing the Gospel to the people of Tamil Nadu. After his beheading, the sand at the site is said to have turned red. Devotees believe that by applying the sand on their bodies, they will be relieved of incurable diseases. (Truthfully, I did not notice anything unusual about the sand). After praying to the saint at the church, childless couples are said to be given a child.

One of the churches visited during the September pilgrimage season, Oriyur receives over 25,000 pilgrims (Christians, Hindus, and Muslims alike) during this time period of a couple of weeks. Visitors from Tamil Nadu and neighboring Kerala make up the bulk of those that come to worship and pray at the Portuguese style church.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ponki and other Kolu Dolls

For the festival of Navartiri in South India, each state has a different type of doll. For example in Andhra Pradesh, dolls of village life and deities are made of soft wood and are known as Poniki wood dolls. In the city of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, the delightful Tanjore dancing dolls move their heads and waists as any proper bobblehead would. Dolls in Rajasthan are made of colorful cloth and wood. In Karnataka near Bangalore, colorful wooden dolls are made, some depicting life in a village.

Above is an example of a Poniki wooden toy made in Andhra Pradesh.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kolu Dolls of South India

In South India, Hindu homes in this time of the year celebrate the festival of Navartiri with Kolu dolls. Literally meaning an assembly, special dolls are arranged in stairstep displays of odd-numbered steps (1,3,5,7, 9, or 11). During this nine-day festival, the goddess Mahishasuramardini is remembered for her slaying of the devil Mahishasura. The first steps are typically dedicated to gods and goddesses. The next steps are for saints and demi-gods. Following that in succession are marriage, businesses and crafts, and traditional wooden dolls.
Women love to show off their kolu display and invite friends, relatives, and neighbors to their homes. Sweets and small gifts will be given to the guests.

Even grocery stores get in the action!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Idaikattur Church, Tamil Nadu

The current church was built in 1866 by a French priest. Funding for the church was made by a French woman who was cured from a heart ailment and wanted to show her gratitude by having a church built in the missionary country of India. One of her conditions was that the building must be a replica of the Rheims Cathedral in France. The structure at Idaikattur is built in the Gothic style, with a vaulted roof supported by columns with cantilevers. Between the two roofs are small openings, which helps with circulation. Inside are 153 angels, some on the altar, others as sculptures around the church, and still others in stained glass windows. In addition, there are relics of 40 saints. Unlike most depictions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which have the heart placed in the middle of the chest, this church has the heart in the left chest, just like humans. This human quality is attractive to pious visitors. The Sacred Heart of Jesus statue is one of three made, with the other two being placed at the convent of St. Margret and another in Rheims.

The church is one of the sites on the pilgrimage tour. It is believed that the petitions of the pilgrims are granted within one month from the time they are raised. In particular, relief from all kinds of psychological and heart ailments, to have happy marriages, to have children, get prompt employment, become debt-free, have family peace, excellent education for one’s children, and return to health.

Notice in the interior photo that there are but a few pews. The rest of the people sat, squatted, or kneeled on the cool, marble floor, except for a few elderly/physically limited individuals seated in a few plastic chairs scattered near the edge of the church. Such an arrangement certainly enabled more pilgrims to cram into the space!

Rabari Farmer, Gujarat

Rabari Farmer, Gujarat, originally uploaded by melissaenderle.

Here is the watercolor painting I just finished of a farmer. Like most farmers in the region, he is wearing all white. My dad (who was a farmer) couldn't get over how these men could keep their clothes so white over the course of a day. Note the large earrings in the middle part of his ears.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tsunami Miracle at Velankanni

On December 26, 2004, over 2,000 pilgrims were taking part in a Mass in the main basilica. Along with other coastal areas of Tamil Nadu, the small coastal town of Velankanni was not spared, devastating the entire town. The only building that escaped destruction was the basilica, sparing all those lives. This is particularly remarkable considering that buildings on the same elevation, located even further inland, were destroyed, while the inside of the basilica remained completely dry. Many consider this a miracle, performed by the loving, protective hand of God.
A similar incident occurred in Chennai, near Marina Beach. St. Thomas Basilica, located right by the sea, was spared from the tsunami, with the devastating waters parting just before reaching the church’s backside. While the church was untouched, the waters spread past the road further inland. 
St. Thome Basilica, Chennai

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Velankanni Night Splendor

Velankanni Basilica, lit up at night, as seen from the hotel window
Oh, how tranquil it looks! Not visible (but present): throngs of people camping out at night, still worshipping within the different chapels, stalls selling goods and making food, and much more.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Dip in the Holy Water

After making my way through the crowds, I arrived at the beach of Velankanni. Although early in the morning, it already was rather crowded. With the mass of people now in the small town, whose lodgings are unable to accommodate all (or those who choose to sleep outside), the sea was the perfect place for a dip - or a bath. Since this is more conservative South India, women walked in the water with their saris or salwars. Out of respect for the bathers, I did not take such close-up shots. 
I did find this scene rather fascinating though. Everyone in the area was wearing orange - the color of penitent pilgrims. The way they interacted with the water made me wonder if some holy or healing status was being applied to the sea by Velankanni. Much like that of the Hindu's holy Ganges River. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Walking to the Beach, Velankanni

In true India style, this mass of people are making their way to the beach at Velankanni. Along the way, they can get snacks, cheap Chinese toys, or even shave their heads. I knew that the beach and ocean had to be that way, but with the crowds, it was impossible to see. I eventually did make it to the beach - without being tempted by any of the goods, services, and head-shaving opportunities.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wishes and Requests

Hanging from trees near the chapel by Mary’s Tank were colorful bundles of cloth and folded pieces of paper. Inquiring about this to my  Chennai Christian friends who had invited me to go with them to Velankanni, I was told that the bundles of cloth were tied by people seeking the birth of a child. On the pieces of paper all strung together, people would write prayers and requests. 

The scene reminded me of the strings tied at the tomb of the Sufi saint in Fatehpur Sikri (near Agra). When a prayer has been fulfilled, the person would return to untie the string.
Fatehpur Sikri

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Buy your Candles (and Body Parts) Here!

A Catholic pilgrimage place would not be complete without places to purchase candles. This stall sells candles of varying colors and sizes, hoping to attract those of most any budget. Amongst the rainbow of colors, you will also find body parts for sale. Available are metal (perhaps even silver) squares with relief impressions of body parts, vital organs, children, and others. Likewise, white moulded arms, legs, and children hang above. Those seeking to have a baby might purchase the child piece. Hoping to get your bum knee healed? Bring the leg piece as an offering. I saw the same types of purchases available at a Hindu temple in Gujarat. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Get Your Heads Shaved Here!

Finding a place where you could get your head shaved was not a problem in Velankanni. I love the sign in front of this crudely made station. Despite the fancy jewelry, fair skin, and large "shades" to entice potential customers with the resulting beauty, I still did not feel compelled by any means to give it a try.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bald is Beautiful

When visiting the various churches including Velankanni on our short trip, one could definitely come to this conclusion. Men, women, and children all sported the slick look. A paste made out of sandalwood covered some newly-shaved heads, large handkerchiefs protected others from the sun, and still other heads were proudly sported in all their bare beauty. Christians and HIndus alike carried out this practice, considered to be a huge sacrifice, particularly for Indian women who cherish beautiful, long hair. For some, hair is offered in exchange for certain favors received, or thanks given for one’s answering of prayers. Even if one has no money for which to give (or to buy gifts for the religious deity), a devotee can make this ultimate gift.  Read more about Why Indians Shave Their Heads

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Along the Path to the Tank

The path between the chapel at “Our Lady’s Pond” (site of the first appearance of Mary) and the main Basilica is filled with sand. Some devotees crawl or walk on their knees all or part of this distance as a way of showing gratitude, showing penance, or making a request. Others walk on foot, chanting, fingering rosary beads, and praying. Along the way, sculptural Stations of the Cross and Stations of the Rosary provided reflecting points. Thankfully, this path is kept quite clean and the middle part less crowded, making it easier to embark on the journey. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Each According to Their Own Faith

Visitors of all faiths come to the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health hoping to be cured of medical ailments, resolve fertility issues, and receive blessings. Much as I saw in a Hindu temple in Gujarat, devotees can buy a silver, gold, or tin offering in the shape of the affected body part.. Garlands of flowers to drape over statues of Mary were popular purchases. Some also brought gold chains and saris. Hindus could be seen carrying platters of coconut halves, camphor, bananas, and flowers. In one chapel, they brought in baby coconut trees as an offering for fertility. Of course, money, placed in large locked boxes near the front of the chapels, is always welcomed. As people inch their way up to the altar or while sitting on the crowded floor, ritual actions are made, each according to his/her religion. Even during a Holy Mass, people of various faiths are present; it may not be until the distribution of the Lord’s Supper that one can distinguish the Christians from non-participating others. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

They All Go to Velankanni

I was one of over three million people descending upon the small (5,000 residents) southern Tamil Nadu town of Velankanni during the nine day festival which just ended on Sept. 8. People from all over India and elsewhere travel by train, plane, boat, car, and foot to reach this famed place called the “Lourdes of the East.” 
During the nine day festival which culminates on Sept 8  - the day of Mary’s birth and also the date when the sailors were saved from the storm - various forms of worship such as Holy Mass, blessings of the sick, and prayers & meditation occur in the basilica and chapels. Depending on the time of day, visitors can hear services in one of nine languages of India, including English.
Mary is reported to have made several appearances in this area. Around 1560, she first appeared to a Hindu milk boy (whose pot of milk overflowed after giving some go the infant Jesus) , then to a lame boy selling buttermilk (who was healed), and then to save Portuguese sailors from a dreadful cyclonic storm. Chapels were then built on these sites and were subsequently expanded.

Visiting Velankanni during the eight-day festival or other special occasions such as Christmas is not for the faint-hearted. It is chaotic, crowded, intense, color - in other words - so India. 

More to come!

Pampering Ganesh

Finally have some time to write about the photos I've taken in the last week.
India once again is celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of one of the most revered Hindu gods. Now in the last days of the 10 day festival, many Hindu devotees have already worshipped and placed their idol into the nearest body of water.

These photos, taken in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, depict the level of devotion and type of offerings presented to the beloved elephant-headed god. In return, Hindus hope for much prosperity and good fortune for the year ahead.

Previous year's posts recount the making of the clay idols, creation of elaborate floral floats, parade, umbrellas and other items for sale, and many more. Look for additional posts around the beginning of September or end of August.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Outside the Bedding House

While it's not uncommon to see people snoozing outside in India, this scene made me take a second look. Here we have a man sleeping on some dirty mattresses in front of a door with a bedding house sign above it. I sure hope anything the place sells looks better than those!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Quite a Handful

Firmly clenching several chickens, this man has just left the poultry selling shop. Are all these mangy-looking chickens destined to land on his home's dinner plates?