Part One: Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Trivandrum
How quickly one goes from complaining about the cold to
complaining about the heat! It had been barely a few dozen hours earlier that
we had moaned about the New York
Our grimaces of pain soon turned to smiles of awe and
wonder, however, as we gazed at the graceful Padmanabhaswamy Temple
We entered the cool interior, and were accosted
straightaway by a priest-like character (perhaps he really was a priest; I am singularly
unqualified to tell a priest-like character apart from an actual priest) who
thrust a tray into our hands, each filled with little containers of oil. There
was no choice. We had to pay for the
oil, and then, feeling like Alice
Clutching at our load with oil-slicked hands, we wandered
around this lovely old temple with its long, beautifully carved corridors -
where, alas, electric lights were now strung up where oil lamps used to be used
– utterly clueless as to what to do next. Obviously we needed to divest
ourselves of the bananas and coconuts (although, with hunger pangs beginning to
rumble, we were seriously tempted to just eat the bananas and offer the
coconuts to some of the many poor people who huddled in the shady corridors).
Neither of us had any idea how to go about it.
I visit temples out of a sense of historical and cultural
interest, not religious or spiritual fervor. Darwin and Dawkins speak to me
more than any religious rituals or scriptures. Here, in this temple, I felt
like a fraud. All around me were true devotees; I could sense the sincerity of
their piety, I was moved by their despair, their sorrow, their anxiety as they prayed,
beseeching the lord to hear and heed their words. I could feel, with a sort of
detached envy, their absolute conviction in their belief, their unwavering
trust in their faith, unruffled by skepticism or irresolution, the peace and
serenity that came from the confidence that they had done everything they
could, and that it was now all in the hands of a higher power.
I am not a true devotee; I am not even a devotee. But there
we were, with a handful of coconuts and squishy bananas and wilted flowers. We meandered over to the front of a small sanctum, where we handed over our stuff to the
priest and stood by in uncomprehending uncertainty while he muttered something
at a rapid fire pace, and then handed us back the coconuts and bananas and
flowers, all liberally dabbed with kumkumam
powder. We collapsed into giggles - were we doomed never to be parted from those bananas and coconuts? - and fled back to the corridor. A line was
forming, to view the main deity of this temple, Lord Padmanabha, depicted here
lying on his serpent, Anantha. The idol, cast almost entirely in gold, is so
long that it can be viewed only in parts, through three different doors – the
head, through the first door, the chest through the second, and the legs
through the third. It is this deity that gave Trivandrum
The line, when we joined it, was already snaking around to
one of the long corridors. There were dozens of high-spirited young men clad in
black, Sabarimalai devotees on their way to or from Sabarimalai. There were
wailing children and large families of parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts.
There was a group of shy young women, fingering their beads and muttering
prayers. There were toothless old women and potbellied old men. There were
people speaking Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and other languages we could
And us, my daughter and I.
Hot, hungry and thirsty. We were told that the door to the sanctum would
open only after another forty five minutes or so. With such a long line,
inching forward, it would be well over an hour before we could hope to get a
glimpse of the beautiful Anantha Padmanabha. We showed ourselves to be fake
devotees. Bogus believers. We left the line and walked out of the temple, into
the bright sunshine.
Alas, I did not have my camera with me at the temple. But I will leave you with this image for today. You will see why Kerala is called God’s Own Country.
To be continued.