Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stone Passages to God, Nanjundeswari Temple pt. I

On our fifth day in India, Calum and I were taken to the magnificent Hindu temple of Nanjundeswari, located in the Mysore countryside. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Mysore on the long, flat, rice paddy and palm tree lined roads, we drove into the unknown, past rusty sheet-metaled cigarette stands and roadside coconut peddlers, zooming by old tanned-black farmers riding on turquoise carts drawn behind bony cows with yellow painted horns, sweat glistening, asphalt flying.

Turn left, get off the highway and onto the rough washed out road that's been under construction for the past century with only another century to go until completion --a microcosm for India, constant construction with no end in sight, rubble everywhere, nothing is clean, everything is gritty.

The crowds ignored our car cutting into its on the way to the parking lot. People, animals, and what must've been half of the world's children wandered and laughed, bitched and bartered with each other. The temple gathers everyone alike, a motley swath of people, some seeking divine favor by rolling on their sides (Lotan Baba style) in circles around the temple's expansive border, others seeking money by selling trinkets that no could appreciate, many longing for darsan, the moment God is both seer and seen, the divine meeting where two become one and wisdom is passed to the faithful.

"You won't need your shoes," Sharath told us before stepping out of the car. My eyes burned just looking at the sun-baked asphalt my curling-in-terror-toes were about the tread. Only 100 yards to the temple gate. I ran like a kid from the changing room to the pool on a blistering summer day. A small pipe with holes cut in it bled a small stream of water to cool and cleanse the feet.

People looked at my white skin as I made my way through the elaborately carved courtyard centered around a large bull statue wreathed in fresh flowers of all colors. A carpet was spread in the open air courtyard marking the path into the main temple and granting respite to scorched soles. I walked through the place oblivious of my own difference and smiled at all who cast me strange glance, "I'm hear to see God too you know," and by god I'll be seen.

Stepping into the wide seemingly-sub-terranean shade of the corridors was awe inspiring. The columns of stone were massive but in perfect with the rest of the structure, which was massive too. All was stone: the cool dusty floor, the hard pillars worn smooth by countless hands' rubbings, the 6' tall carvings of Hindu pantheon, all of it stone and most it smudged with red, orange and yellow curry powder and dripping with candle wax.

The total effect of the scene made me feel I was wandering somewhere I shouldn't be; like I was about to come face to face with someone or something that would just as soon mutilate me as look at me. Something other lived in these man-made caverns, something not to be touched once carved. I knew that eventually, if I stayed in this place long enough I would have to see God, and even worse, be seen in return...


Top: Front view of the amazing temple crown. Bottom: view of the temple courtyard and colorful Indian women. Video: never before seen footage of a stroll through Nanjundeswari Temple, Mysore India.

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