Saturday, October 9, 2010

First India Road Trip Part 4 - "Shiva Temple(s) and a wedding!"

I hope I have made it clear that I always intended to make this blog into an "unvarnished and truthful" look at our time living in India.  I have certainly tried to do that.  While the overwhelming number of experiences have been out-of-this-world POSITIVE - there have been a few that were... well, "not so much".  One was my getting my pockets picked at the Ganesha Immersion near the Hussain Sagar Lake last month (no special blog on that coming - I'd really rather not dwell on it - suffice to say "lesson learned" and I'm down one Blackberry and one digital camera!)

Other things that have happened are not so much "negative" - rather - they are simply a part of a learning-curve for an American guy getting used to the Indian way of doing things.  There are two of these little quirks that I need to remember every day:

1) Indian people simply do not like to tell you "no!"  As a matter of fact, I think it may be an impossibility for them to even say the word!!  This can be a little maddening for somebody who tries to live by the Biblical admonition to "Let your "yes" be "yes", and your "no" be "no"!"  Being so "positive" sounds like a good thing, but - even if a person here means: "No, no, no!  Absolutely NOT!" - it comes out as: "I will try!"  If they meant "I will try!" - that would be one thing.  But, often it really means: "No...not a chance in the world!"


2) India is a BIG country.  The roads (especially this year in Andhra Pradesh, after this heavier-than-normal monsoon season) are often not-so-good.  But in asking my Indian friend Bhaskar, "Is it very far?" - the answer to any such inquiry is the same: "No, sir...not far!!"

When we got situated in the car after the Kush Mahal - - There was another three-way exchange in Telugu.  Then Krishna asked me if I wanted to see "just one more temple, Sir?"  Well - if the truth were told, I was tired and I really didn't want to see another temple!  But I could hear from the buzz in the car that it was something that everyone felt I really should do - - so - I agreed and asked (for the first time) "Is it very far?"

"No, sir...not far!!" was all that Bhaskar said!

The next hour-and-a-half was spent driving along the WORST road we had seen so far...mostly it was a "dirt road" - but even worse than that is - the local goat-herders were busy getting their flocks home for the night...and we had to stop and pass literally dozens of herds of goats - with some flocks numbering in the hundreds!!  I was getting so frustrated, I told Krishna: "No more extra trips!!"

All of a sudden - and for no reason that I could see, we pulled over in the dark of night (I had already asked Bhaskar if the temple we were going to see "had lights on it" !) - and we pick up another passenger!!!  It turns out that it was yet another friend who not only had connections at the Shiva Temple we were headed to, but - he had made special arrangements for a private pooja to be made in my honor!!

About fifteen minutes further up the road, we pulled into the temple grounds.  By most standards, it's a smaller temple that most...the lights are on - - inside - but overall the surroundings are dark enough to make you think that the place was closed!  We walk up to the temple doors....and - - there are a few smiling men outside the door...and they stepped back to let us through.  Four of us (poor Krishna had Bee-Duty again...we were going to definitely need to figure out a way to deal with Bee on the next road-trip!)

As we entered the sanctuary, the wonderful smell of incense and left-over prasadam filled the air.  Evidently, there had been another pooja a little earlier, but - as it turned out - - the men milling around the door were the "temple band" (for lack of a better term! - - it was 3-4 drummers and a fellow that played something like and Indian version of a large bagpipe chanter - - think the kind of pipe that you might see used by a guy picked by central-casting to play a snake-charmer in the movies!)  We walked right up the the door of the "holy-of-holies" where the Deity resides (in this case it was a small, golden Shivalingam - in front of an idol I frankly did not recognize... with some icons and small statues of both Shiva and Parvati and lots and lots of yellow and orange flowers!)...a red-dhoti clad pujari (priest of Lord Shiva - - you can tell by the tell-tale three white horizontal lines of the Shiva tilaka - correctly called tripundra - on his forehead...) came out and began chanting a prayer service...

All the while, I am just overwhelmed with the sounds (the chanting along with loud drumming and piping!) - the smells (flowers and incense and a rice-lentil prasadam dish!) and sights (this naked from the waist-up priest casting special rice-grains and water and milk and coconut water and red kumkum powder towards the statue...)  The Priest asked for my name and my wife's name (evidently for a blessing) and my son's name.  He looked shocked and saddened that I had no son.  He put back the nine-grain offering (I forget what it's called) reserved for "my son"...and then did the entire thing over again for Bhaskar and the two other fellows.  Out of the fours of us, only Bhaskar and I were Christians...but he was most familiar with what was going on and kept explaining things to me the entire time....

An older priest came around the corner and presented me with a nice, full-color booklet about the temple and its history (unfortunately, all in Telugu - - which is why I can't tell you the name of the place!!) and placed a red kumkum tilak on my forehead and a green and gold scarf around my neck...  I was whispered-to by Bhaskar to put some money on the plate...I still don't think I put enough, but - it was all I had in my pockets!

I thanked everybody for the wonderful ceremony...and we began to walk around the temple grounds...

On the far side...there is a very, very old Shiva Temple...mostly just the remaining pillars and a raised was roofless so there was nothing but the expanse of stars above.  "Inside" the temple....there was a full-scale Hindu wedding going on!!  My three Indian friends had no problem walking right up the stairs and into the midst of the wedding guests...who, of course, all stopped and stared at the American Guy!!

My lads did everything they could to push me toward the wedding ceremony, but - being a good Anglican - I gravitated toward the back of the hall!  The mother of the bride came up to me and put another tilak on my forehead (this one was orange, made from saffron)  - and beckoned me to sit in the circle with her and the family and the bride and groom!  I told you that the Indians are hospitable...but this was one-step-beyond!!  I begged-off sitting down (probably a great offense to the family...but I was really nervous and I think anybody from the West might be!!)...

We sort of sneaked-out the back...and toward the in...and headed back toward Warangal and our hotel.

Heck...I can't get the next-days activities at the Ramappa Temple in this blog...I've rambled-on far too long as it is....  I'll have to make this a FIVE PARTER!!

To "Bee" Continued in the fifth  (and final) episode....