Monday, October 31, 2011

The Sunderbans - Mangrove Forest

This past week for our October Diwali break, I traveled to West Bengal. The first location I visited was the Sunderbans, situated in both West Bengal (India) and Bangladesh. Famous for its Bengal tigers, the Sunderbans is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the world's largest tropical Mangrove forest.

See my photos at:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Oh, the Secrets I Could Tell

In just the few minutes I paused here, a steady stream of devotees bent down to whisper into the ear of Nandi, located at the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. It is believed that such whispered prayers will reach the god Shiva.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy Diwali!

As this is posted, I am in Kolkata. I look forward to experiencing Kolkata's version of Diwali - the festival of Lights. Although I doubt I can escape the firecrackers and fireworks, I want to see how this north-eastern city celebrates this major Hindu festival. 
For all my friends who partake, happy Diwali!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Potramarai Kualam - Meenakshi Temple

Upon entrance to the temple, devotees would first make a trip around the 50x37 m (165x120ft) sacred pond prior to entering the main shrine. Meaning Pond with the Golden Lotus due to the golden color of the lotus growing there, the pond was devoid of any water when I visited it, due to repairs being done. Despite its empty state, throngs of people still gathered in the pillared corridors. In line with Tamil legends, authors still place their works in the pond which judges its worth, with esteemed ones floating while poorly written doomed to sink. Talk about a critic!

Weddings -times 4,5,6,7

On the day that I visited the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, it must have been an auspicious day for getting married. The colonnaded hallway around the Lotus Pond was brimming with wedding couples and their guests. Lots of silk, gold, mehendi, and jasmine here!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Of Deities and Yallis

The towering four gateways of the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai are totally covered with protruding statues of brightly painted deities, mythical and real animals, and monsters. On the top, menacing faces of guardian deities known as yallis with their protruding eyes, horns, teeth, and long mustaches stare at those who come near. A feast for the eye, the temple’s twelve gopuras beg for extra viewing and zoom lenses. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Meenakshi Temple - Heart of Madurai

Located in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the city of Madurai is synonymous with it fabulous Hindu temples, most notably the Meenakshi Temple. The Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple was originally built by the Pandas who reigned during the 7th-10th centuries and received extensive additions by succeeding dynasties, particularly during the 14th and 18th centuries. The current structure, mostly rebuilt in 1559 AD, is considered a splendid example of South Indian Dravidian architecture. Surrounded by high walls, the massive temple complex (45 acres) has four entrances - one at each main cardinal point. To enter, visitors walk through one of the massive pyramidal gopuras, each with a height of more than 50 m (164 ft), with the tallest rising to 52 m (170 ft). It is the of the few temples on Tamil Nadu to have entrances at each of the four cardinal points. 

Even today, the Meenakshi Temple is both the geographic and religious center of Madurai. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Poondi Matha Basicilica

Our final place of pilgrimage in Tamil Nadu was to the small village of Thiruvaiyaru Taluk. Amidst the emerald green paddy fields rose the large basilica known as Poondi Matha (meaning mother in Tamil). Erected in the late 18th century, this white structure of Gothic and French style was elevated to the status of minor basilica by Pope John II in 1999.

Like other churches along the pilgrimage path with Velankanni, Poondi Matha attracts large numbers of visitors around the time of the festival in Velankanni. The basilica has been enlarged due to donations and even contains an upstairs room that is air conditioned - a definite incentive to meditate!  Masses were held on a rotating basis in multiple languages, accommodating the various places of origins for these Indian visitors. More housing and eating facilities have been erected to try to accommodate the swell of visitors. Some still elect to cook and/or sleep outside - which is fine until the downpours come!

The Poondi Matha houses a tiny fragment of what it claims to be a piece of the cross of Christ. People kissed the glass in front of the relic as they walked by, then spending more time in front of the large statue of Mary and infant Jesus. Once again, Mary was clad in a silk sari (several more were draped in front of the display - gifts of devotees), gold chains given by people, and floral garlands. More garlands were tied in front of the display, constantly refreshed by people. Off to the side, a worker took off some still-fresh garlands and began (much to my horror) ripping them apart and tossing the roses and other flowers in what looked like a waste basket.

Parade by the Pieta

Devotees gather near the chariot of Mary, being paraded past the grotto of Mary and a copy of the Pieta at the Poondi Matha Basilica. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Coming in With Mary

On our way to the Idaikattur Church in Tamil Nadu, we passed by a fair number of religious pilgrims walking alongside the road, all bare-footed. Most carried few possessions - typically what they could carry in a small bag. One group proudly pushed along a religious "chariot." Except for the cross on top, one could at a distance forgive it for being for a Hindu ceremony. Loudspeakers, powered by a large battery, broadcast praises of Mary to Christian and Hindu households alike. 
Wearing a silken sari, garlands made of fragrant flowers, and a large crown on her head, the statue of Mary dominated the chariot interior. Struggling to emerge amidst the cloth was the child Jesus. 
Now nearing dusk, the colorful decorative lights adorned the roof and cross. People gathering around the chariot began singing in unison, accompanied by drums. The positive energy was strong, evidence of the passion and devotion of all gathered.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kolu gods display

A closeup of a few of the god dolls on display for Kolu, a Hindu festival. Rekha (the hostess) has arranged the figures by size, with the largest on the top stair.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Kolu Display and Host

A friend of a colleague of mine invited us to see the kolu display in her flat. Rekha's display of just stone-colored gods was a bit different than the colorful (and sometimes whimsical) figures I had seen in Mylapore. She explained that this more somber style was more representative of the type of display that would be found in a temple. Every year she sets up a different themed display. Imagine the storage needed for such collections!
Thanks again Rekha for being such a gracious hostess!

Child with Pleading Eyes

Child with Pleading Eyes, originally uploaded by melissaenderle.

A pastel painting I was working on.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Banana Leaves and Sandalwood Paste

Those little sputtering tuk-tuks definitely like to get into the Ayudha Puja festivities. Rickshaw owners take their vehicles to get a cleaning and at special stands, have the exteriors decorated with patterned (or splattered) sandalwood paste. Banana stalks are then attached to the side corners. Going through the streets, the large leaves flutter in the breeze like flags.
At the colorful stands where the "pimping" of the rickshaws takes place, loud music jubilantly announces the presence of the decorating service. This stand was set up on the side of the road going past Chennai's many IT parks.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Ganesh Teaches the Mice

My friend bought this cute kolu set. Although Ganesh was a popular figure in the many displays we had already viewed, this one caught our eye. How appropriate is it to find the beloved elephant god seated in the front of an invisible room, while his pupils with their paper diligently listen. Look closely and you will notice each of these mice students each have a shock of black hair running down their back - female students! 

Ayudha Puja - Remembering the Tools

Seeing cut stalks of banana plants alongside the road and more vehicles than usual with garlands and sandalwood splatter, I correctly guessed that today is Ayudha Puja. I love how items related to your labor are honored, through careful cleaning and decoration. Flower sellers love this day, as people buy garlands of aesthetic or fragrant flowers to adorn everything from their vehicle (including bicycles, rickshaws and motorcycles) to cement mixers and shop entrances. Palm leaf decorations hang from places, broken dyed green pumpkins litter the road sides, and splats or "v" shaped patterns made from sandalwood paste + vermillion powder adorn windshields and other flat surfaces.
By worshipping the tools of one's profession, it helps point to the divine force behind working behind the tool to help carry out a successful performance. Ayudha Puja is celebrated in different ways around India and is usually celebrated in Tamil Nadu on the 9th day of Navatiri - usually at the end of September or beginning of October.

Visit previous posts from years past on this Hindu festival - 2009 and on the rickshaws, 2008 #1 and #2

Monday, October 03, 2011

Of Gopurams and Dolls

With the impressive gopuram of the Kapaleeshwarar (Mylapore) temple in the background, these sari-clad women stop to look at the display of kolu dolls on sale for the Navatiri festival. See yesterday's post for a close-up of one display.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Krishnas to Villagers

Once again, kolu dolls fill the streets surrounding the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai. Stall after stall sells these colorful dolls during the festival of Navartiri. From whimsical blue Krishnas and Hindu chariot processions, to village scenes and family members all gathered around a TV, shoppers could find at least some items that they didn't yet have in their collection. Because each stall had slightly different ones (and of varying painting quality), it was helpful to visit at least a few stalls before making a decision.

I made this image a bit larger so you can peek around the stall. Which one(s) would you buy?