Saturday, October 16, 2010

Road Trip #2 - - Part Two - Srisailam Temples

The hotel room at the "Punammi Resort" was NOT "five star" a matter of fact - - I don't think there is such a thing as a "half-a-star" hotel...or, if there was one - - the venerable Punammi would get a "quarter star".  The bed had no box-spring...only plywood (or was it granite???) - covered by a 3" thick piece of foam.  The bathroom had no bathtub or was my first time using the time-tested "bucket-and-pitcher" method.  The A/C worked well-enough - -but - it leaked pretty had to be careful getting out on the left-side of the bed or you could slip break your neck on the wet marble floor.  Keeping Beloved's food (and water) on the floor as usual proved to be a problem, as - the bugs found it in the middle of the night.

In other words...I was extremely glad that Amy Suzanne was not along for this road trip!!

However, after the long drive down from Hyderabad, any place to lay our heads was a good place.  Sangamesh and Krishna got the room next-door - - and - as the day went on and the tourist buses kept arriving - - I'll be darned if the Punammi Hotel didn't fill to capacity by the time I got up from my nap.

The Temple opened again at 4:30 P.M.  You could tell this was happening because the loud drum-beats and chanting (live from the inner-sanctum!) began being blasted from the loudspeakers around town...especially the one on a pole right outside the hotel.  Directly across from the hotel, an older, dreadlocked sadhu had set up a mini-shrine under a large tree - and there in the shade on the stone tree-well, he had placed a small black plastic shivalingam (I think it was purchased from one of the gift-stands outside the temple!) some old, faded-but-nicely-framed icons of Lord Shiva, a photo of Sai Baba (the bad one - with the Afro and the orange robe and dhoti!) - a few old orange flowers, assorted broken-open coconuts, banana leaves, red and saffron-colored kumkum powder...and a few sticks of pungent burning incense...

As the drumbeats from the loudspeakers began to pound even more frenetically - the three of us began to make our way, with a few-hundred other pilgrims and local devotees, up the street toward the temple gates. We walked past the many wooden stands which were selling assorted colorful pooja supplies, C.D.'s and gifts.  Outside the actual temple gates, there was the customary place to "check your shoes" (for a mere 10 rupees!) so you can enter the grounds freely discalced.  I don't think I have walked around barefooted this much since I was a beach-kid in Venice growing up!!  We passed through a rudimentary metal-detector and by some serious-looking uniformed and armed (AK-47's!) security police...and Krishna and Sangamesh asked one of them for directions.  Directions to what, I don't know - - I was completely at the mercy of my beloved caretaker and security man...which would usually be comforting - - but - as it turns out, they were both by my side the night I got my pockets picked at the Ganesha immersion (I know - - I said I wasn't going to dwell on it - but - it still stung!!) - so - I was very aware of my surroundings!!

We made our way to a "holding area" where - - this is sort of hard to describe without photos - but I'll try.  A big part of Hindu worship is the darshan.  This can be as simple as walking by and seeing the deity - - or touching it...or prostrating oneself before the idol.  To get inside of the sanctuary can sometimes take literal hours...and - this means standing in lines (or, queues, as they call them here - - just like the English)  There are iron railings (mostly under some sort of roof or cover - - here at Srisailam, it was corrugated steel) that snake around some part of the temple grounds.  Kind of like the back-and-forth lineups for rides at Disneyland - - only - - much more dingy and tightly-packed.  I'll tell you right now...that if a crush of humanity, along with people who are a part of a culture that has absolutely NO sense whatsoever of "personal space" - - inside of tight, squished quarters, in semi-darkness - - if these things are not for you --- then - do yourself a favor and stay out of Hindu temples at darshan time!!!!

The "free" line (the line to get into the sanctuary at no cost) was already beginning to form under the steel roof.  I got waves of claustrophobia just looking at the line - and there were less than fifty people in it!  We found the line for "pay tickets" for the aarti and darshan for the evening.  There were only about 0.01% of the people in the pay-line - the three of us, one single lady and a young couple.  The ticket booth opened at 5:30 - so - there was a bit of a wait.  That's one other thing about worship in Hindu have to be willing to wait around.  Krishna and I walked up to where the actual line for people who had tickets was...and - we were standing along a wall that had carvings of scenes from the Mahabarata on it that were over 1,000-years-old.  Along the chain-link fence that separated us from the "free line" and an area where you could tell was a gathering area for pilgrims when the temple gets really crowded (Krishna tells me that you can wait 4-5 hours during any festival . . and at the time of Maha Shivrati - forgetaboutit!!)

Sangamesh got our three tickets (Rs. 600.00 total - about $12.00) and joined us at the front of the line...and at about 5:45 P.M, we were allowed into a sort of "viewing area/anteroom" for the "Holy of Holies".  There were iron railings, again forming "corrals" for throngs of people...but - there were very few "paying customers" today - maybe fifty of us.  There was a group of about 25 women - - all in traditional saris - as it turns out - we were told that they had paid a special fee to be at the front for the Aarti and Darshan tonight... it seems that one of their group was having a daughter get married and it was a special occasion for them.  Unfortunately (more on this to come) - the actual inner sanctum can only hold 25 worshippers, elbow-to-elbow.  That meant all of us guys could only stand outside the door and get a narrow-angle glimpse of what would be going on inside.

The waiting area needs to be NO PHOTOS would be allowed.  Along with the iron railings, there was a large Ganesha shrine as you entered the building.  Again...devout Hindus, no matter what "denomination" - take time to first address Lord Ganesha before any other prayers.  In the photos from the Srisailam Road Trip Facebook Album - the golden "dome" that you see from the outside is built directly over the sanctuary where the Shiva Jyotirlingam lies inside.  There was a knee-high, black basalt statue of Nandi the Sacred Bull at one end of the anteroom - - and he was surrounded by dozens of flowers on the ground (a smell you get used to!) and about 10 sticks of burning incense.  There was an old Shiva Priest in the corner, with a huge basket of cotton...and he was making wicks for ghee lamps that are used at every aarti... He had another basket filled with the completed wicks...he probably had 100+ finished by the time we got inside. 

There were several "backpacks" laying in the would have made me nervous - but - among the open piping and duct work overhead (which were all painted black - and in the dimly-lit corridor made for a kind of spooky atmosphere)...there was an old (but functioning) "eye-in-the-sky" camera-bubble mounted to the "ceiling".  I could see the camera-lens scanning the room.  I would think that if anything was out-of-sorts, the security team would have been on it.  As it turned out -  - these backpacks held the "pipes and drums" for the "temple band" which would be beginning to play the cacophony of music for the Aarti in just a matter of moments.

The next several minutes can only be described as a sensual assault - - a virtual explosion of sights, sounds and smells...the likes of which I had never seen in my entire life!!

Sorry...I should have known I couldn't fit this Roar Trip into a two-part blog...Part Three coming tomorrow!!


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  4. My visit to Srisailam - Kardalivan-Akkama devi Cave

  5. Really informative. Thanks for sharing all this with us. The town is most famous for Bhramaramba Mallikarjuna Temple, one of the 12 Jyotirlinga temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. I have been there a few times. Have a look at places to visit Srisailam.

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