India: The Colorful South

Festivals, Temples, Honking Galore

Wed, Jan 16

India is spectacular.

I am overwhelmed in the best way by the culture here. Everyone we look at smiles at us, and many hold up their children for us to take pictures of, or hold out their hand for us to shake. Some speak English, and many do not; regardless of the language barrier, they seem to want to connect and communicate be it by just a nod of the head or smile.

In the late afternoon we survived a couple hours drive and checked into a magnificent oasis of a hotel South of Chennai in Mahabalipuram (which I will henceforth denote as Maha for all intensive purposes). Lakuma our tour guide announced that we had the option of waking extra early the next day to see a festival that is happening for the first time in 25 years. It is supposed to happen annually but due to political tension, it has been cancelled until this year, and we happened to stumble upon it at the exact right day! Everyone seemed enthused, so today we woke up at 5am and made a detour to the temple where it took place.

Sunrise:
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Walking to the temple, hearing the beating of the drum getting louder and faster, seeing the crowds of people parading and dancing about was utterly amazing. It was the most energetic and alive place I have ever been – it was like Burning Man meets the Macy’s Day parade meets Dancing With the Stars meets Buddha.

These are just a few of the pictures from the performances, and also inside the stone temple: Yes, they pulled grandma into the dancing circle and she danced with them! And then I did too!

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The festival was called Parivettu, where there is a procession of the gods Shiva and Pari from one temple to another.

I thought we were so special and lucky to be able to witness this – and I still do think this – but I also realized that there a really rare festivals happening literally all the time! Simultaneously the past four days have been Pongal, which is an annual harvest festival similar to our thanksgiving or Christmas. Also, Kumba Mela is being celebrated in the north right now, and only happens once every twelve years! I love celebrations, and I love festivals!!!

After the whirlwind festival, we continued along our regularly planned day of seeing how silk is made in the villages. Outside most doors were decorations called Colum, which symbolizes prosperity for the house:

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After learning how to dress in a Saree, we continues to an ancient temple which is also a world heritage site: the Shore Temple made from soap stone in 8 AD.

As we approached the temple, a cartloads of kids pulled by two water buffalo came towards us, jumping up and down, waving, shrieking with excitement! Once we got off the bus, Lakuma yelled something in Tamil (the language of the region which Lakuma says is meant to be spoken loudly) and the next thing we know, all the kids are off and we are on the cart!! As much as we are taking pictures and wanting to experience the local culture, they want their pictures taken and to share their culture. It is beautiful to be a part of it.

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