But...here are a LOT of pics from the Madurai trip. We had been there for the 60th birthday celebrations of close friends.
Here are two images that I love; they are both from the Meenakshi Amman Kovil in Madurai.
The first is the way the strong sunlight comes, quite literally, pouring in through the gaps in the granite beams.....it illuminates this stone elephant:
Legend (the temple has thousands of stories for almost every piece of sculpture there is in it!) that once, when the Pandya king offered sugarcane with humility and faith in Shiva, one of the stone elephants came to life and ate the sugar cane....
That was a woman devotee whispering her wish into the ear of a small statuette of Nandi
, the vehicle of Shiva...
We decided to stay in a small hotel,which has a fantastic view from some of the rooms, and especially, from the terrace. This is Hotel Aarathy ...it's got rather seedy over the years, but they made a special effort for us, the room service coffee was filter, fast and hot, and here's the view of the Meenakshi Temple, the most famous temple of Madurai:
The main gOpurams are under renovation for the upcoming kumbhAbhishEkam (literally, "pouring of water over the sacred pot"or kalasham kept at the top of the gOpuram)
Madurai, however, is full of lesser-known, but equally beautiful temples.Our hotel faces this lovely temple of "Koodal Azhagar". Azhagar (the Beautiful One) generally denotes Vishnu:
I got the temple elephant walking around the perambulatory yard of the temple:
The temple has three levels, at each of which Vishnu is depicted as standing, sitting, and lying down. Here is a painting of the idol inside, shown in one of the window openings:
Here's the detail of Vishnu with Lakshmi on his lap (now that's the best laptop one could have!) and the stylized lions:
Here are two hermits, grey with the dust of years,their hair grown long and matted, in penance to get a vision of the Lord:
Right in front of our hotel gate (which faces the red-and-white wall of the Koodal Azhagar temple) was a small shrine with lit lamps:
It intrigues me that even in the wall of a temple, there is yet another shrine to yet another god!
Here's the family of friends, with whom we went to celebrate.
The couple are sitting in front of the hOma or sacred fire; the daughter-in-law and son are to the right, and the daughter, holding their grandson, is on the left, with the son-in-law next to her. The son lives in Mumbai, the daughter in Chicago...she was working in the 26th floor of the B Tower of the World Trade Center when 9/11 happened, and was one of the lucky ones to escape...she actually climbed down all the way.
The couple are having abhishekam done by the priest:
The highlight of the celebration is the tying of a second mAngalyam (sacred thread) by the husband whose 60th birthday it is, around the wife's neck:
Of course we had several sumptuous meals, and my attention was caught by this printed paper that was spread across the tables. The plantain leaves were spread on top of it.
The message says, in Tamizh, "Thank you for coming!"
Here's a picture of a sweet semi-solid, semi-liquid dish, that I have seen only in Madurai. It's called " jil jil jigar thandA". "jil" is cool, cold, in Tamizh; and "jigar" is a Hindi word literally meaning liver, but used to mean the heart; and "thandA", again, is Hindi for cold. "Cool cool, cools the heart"...what a lovely mixture of two languages to describe a sweet drink!
Going to visit old friends later, we passed the St Mary's Church:
It struck me that Madurai also has so many mosques and churches, but all the attention goes only to one temple!
I have long been tickled by the fact that the small vans in which goods are ferried around the tiny lanes of inner Madurai have "APE" written on them!
I think APE stands, actually, for Andhra Pradesh Electronics!
We approached the Meenakshi temple to visit it:
Inside, as one enters the South Gopuram, one can see a beautifully executed pith model of the temple:
The temple pillars and gOpurams abound with sculptures, in their thousands. My attention was caught by this figure of RAvaNA, the king of Sri Lanka, who was a great king and a fine VaiNika (player of the veenA), whose downfall was his kidnapping of Seetha, the wife of Rama.
Next to him is the iconic depiction of the wedding of Meenakshi to Shiva, with Vishnu, her brother, giving her away in marriage. This divine wedding is celebrated each May in the temple, with huge fanfare, pomp and pageantry.
The temple has a pond, where, according to legend, a golden lotus bloomed and gave the world "sangath thamizh", or classical Tamizh, which is a language as old as Sanskrit.
You can see the "dwaja sthambham" or flag pole in brass, and right behind it is a gold-covered lotus that the temple authorities have erected. The pond used to be accessible to everyone, but now it's been blocked off and trees and shrubs have been set there to beautify it.
The "Ayiram kAl mandapam" or the "pavilion of a thousand pillars" in the temple, is full of shops selling all sorts of wares:
My friend Mala and I delighted in singing at every shrine; at one point, we began one song but stopped short as we moved ahead. Later, these three women came up to us and complimented us on our voices, and expressed regret that we had not finished the song (which is, ironically, called, "kurai onrum illai"..."I have no regrets"!)...so we stood there in front of the shop in the picture above, and sang the whole song for them!
KM and I then decided to go and see KOchadai, the place where we used to live when KM worked for a company called Fenner , and we shuttled between Chennai and Madurai. It's a beautiful, green campus, and part of it, which used to belong to Madura Coats, is now being renovated and developed as a five-star hotel; but the Fenner compound was still intact, and look how green and lovely and verdant it is:
Here's the bungalow that we used to occupy; it's unoccupied and unused now:
When I was there, I had asked the gardeners to plant many frangipani and Indian cork trees; it was lovely to see them tall and thriving:
We met many old friends, and made some new ones, and it was a most enjoyable trip.
I close with this picture of one of the sculptures on the pillar, in the Meenakshi temple, which has turned into a shrine by itself. It's of the monkey god, Hanuman or AnjanEyA, (click on that for some mythology!).
Any bhajan or musical function in south India closes with the AnjanEya Uthsavam (festival); the god is considered a fitting finale to events, in the way that Ganapathi or VinAyak is considered an auspicious beginning.
A short trip to Madurai, resulting in a loooong post....!