In late January, Ed and I spent twelve days exploring Tamil Nadu, India's southern-most state covering 800 miles of coastline along the Bay of Bengal. It hosts 77 million people and many temples from the 6th to the 9th Century. We enjoyed the massive temple complexes with brightly colored Gopurams (gates).
Our favorite was Brihadiswara, which reminded us of Angkor Wat. Not even a day of rain could dampen the spirits of our traveling group that includes ourselves and two other couples: Barbara Sharp & Todd Sack, and Inge & Scott Baker. (Note that temple visiting is a barefoot endeavor!)
Also, several non-temple experiences stood out.
One Million Protesters
On our first day in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu formerly known as Madras, we noticed that there was tons of traffic—stopped in gridlock. Our guide explained that over one million people had been protesting along the beachfront because the Indian government had banned a beloved Tamil traditional celebration—the Jallikattu. This traditional celebration involves running after bulls and trying to grab them. PETA and other western organizations had lobbied the Indian government to cancel this because it was harmful to the bulls. And, the Supreme Court had banned it for the last three years. However, this month, in a show of national pride, and a desire for the community to control its destiny, the protesters shouted “No! It’s our tradition and we don’t need Westerners telling us what to do!”
The protests were loud, and the TV news showed they were a bit violent.
Our experience was traffic gridlock–and police presence everywhere.
After six days of protests, the government backed down, decided to allow the Jallikattu, and dropped all charges against the protestors. After the days of gridlock, traffic flowed smoothly as we left the city.
In the Midst of the Jallikattu
As we were driving to Madurai—home of a huge temple complex—we were surrounded by throngs of motorcycles, each with three men aboard. Most were young; all were helmet-less.
Our driver explained that they were headed to … the Jallikattu! Every so often, we encountered a bull, either in a truck bed, on a cart, pulling a cart, or walking along the road with his master.
When we arrived near some open fields, we observed thousands of men (and very few women) who were ready for the bull running. In the other direction, a slew of local government officials sped by in their motorcade to open the festivities. We were able to stop and get close to a bull. Each village brought their own bull for the festivities. Everyone was in good spirits and ready for action.
We later learned that 37 people were injured during the Jallikattu in Madurai. No word about any animals being injured.
Our First Hindu Wedding
In the midst of a Hindu temple, we stumbled upon a beautiful wedding ceremony. This couple, who was meeting for the second time, was married by a Hindu priest. After the ceremony, the groom placed a ring on the bride’s toe – indicating that she was now a married woman.
After the ceremony, Scott and a Japanese tourist joined in the wedding party photos. Talk about a nice groomsman in a hat!
Meditating near the “MatriMandir”
One of the stranger places we visited was Auroville—a community of 550 residents based on the principles of yoga, philosophy, and spirituality. Founded in the late 60’s, Auroville was envisioned as a “futuristic international city, where people of goodwill would live together in peace.” It attracts residents who are in “search of enlightenment without the trappings of traditional religion.”
The town claims it’s not a “tourist destination”, but instead a “spiritual location”. Every day, they invite 150 guests to meditate with them for 45 minutes of silence. Unfortunately, we were too late to register for the meditation, but we were able to view a film of the meditation “globe” and later we walked to the vista point overlooking the MatriMander.
This globe reminded us of the spaceship in the recent movie, Arrival. Others thought it looked like a golden golf ball.
We were able to see a model of what the globe looks like on the inside. The hole in the top projects sunlight into the white-carpeted space.
Since we couldn’t join the group meditation, we had to settle for our own private meditation… in the van! (It didn't last 45 minutes...)
Rejuvenating Ayuervedic Massage
Another first was the Ayuervedic foot massage at a spa near the beach. Ed had a male masseuse. Mine was female. The masseuse gave us a 1” strip of cloth on a string around our waist to cover our “privates” and then set a towel down on a gym mat. We laid down on this towel, and the masseuse held on to a string suspended above us and proceeded to massage every nook and cranny of our body using one of his or her feet. She balanced on the other foot and held on to the string. First face up. Then, face down. Every so often, she dribbled oil on us and continued her relentless pursuit to cover every inch! This massage also included more oil dribbled on our heads and some more traditional massage on a massage table where the masseuse used her hands. At the end of the 90 minutes, we were very relaxed and rejuvenated! Photo disclaimer: Nice butt, but this is not Ed ... it's an online pic! No cameras were allowed in our rooms.
Yoga on the Terrace
Experiencing the 7:00 AM yoga class with the Naral, the Indian yogi, was a treat. He led a group of about ten guests (including Inge and me) through many of the traditional poses and breathing exercises. (His voice and accent sounded just like Depak Chopra on the Oprah/Depak meditation tapes.) The meditation was punctuated by the morning “caw-caw” of local birds and the faint hint of the waves crashing on the beach.
Other Colorful Characters
With the variety of cultures and religions present in Tamil Nadu, colorful characters were everywhere. Including, a man in orange and a police captain in Pondicherry,
and a cute girl at Mamallaparum.
When we saw this ancient elephant at Mamallaparum, we decided to "assume our favorite position".
A First for Us!
Ed and I have to admit that we hadn’t heard of Tamil Nadu until our friend Todd suggested that we come here prior to our journey to SriLanka. It is not usually a tourist’s first introduction to India, but it was for us! And what a wonderful introduction…