By Mary Kay Seales
Yes, I know. Young Monks in the Temple. The perfect name for a band, right? Better than Snarky Puppy, if you ask me. Or Smashing Pumpkins.
But this is not a band, and these are actual young monks on their way to a temple, the Meenaskshi Temple in Madurai, South India, to be exact, one of the many exquisite Hindu temples I was able to visit while living there in 2011.
We, the young monks and I, were all on our way into the temple that day, all barefoot on the cool stone. I had my shirt on. They didn’t.
“Madhurai is the oldest continually inhabited city in the Indian peninsula, with a history dating all the way back to the Sangam period of the pre-Christian era. It has been inhabited since at least the 3rd century BCE. It is considered as the cultural capital of Tamilnadu.”
The temple itself is a magnificent work. Overwhelming in its detail and mystery. The architecture, the hundreds of paintings on ceilings and walls, the sculpted figures stacked on tower after tower, the dark doorways only Hindus are permitted to enter.
This temple also houses:
The Pond of Golden Lotus: “If the devotees bathe in the waters of this pond of Golden Lotus on Amavasya (new moon) day, the first day of the month, days of eclipse and other auspicious days and worship the Lord, they will be blessed with all their aspirations for success.”
Paintings: “There are paintings depicting the 64 miracles of Lord Shiva, all which were enacted in Madurai. These aesthetic drawings can be seen on the northern wall facing the Pottamarai kulam of tank of the golden lotus.”
The New Mandapam (mandapam simply means ‘porch-like structure’): “On the pillars surrounding the mandapam, along the first six rows on the eastern side are carved figures of equestrian heroes, yalis, Ekapathamoorthy and that of Gajasankarar. In the adjacent interior are sculptures of Thadagapirattiar, her tours (dikvijayam), Lord Shiva facing her, feeding of piglets, moon, sun, tiger feeding fawns and two dwarapalakars.”
These are only a few, very few, of the intricate details in the Meenaskshi Temple.
There are many other temples to visit in South India, all fascinating, historic, photographable and experiential. But photos, as always, can only convey just a touch of the feel one has while there. India may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but if it is, then don’t skip South India and its Hindu temples. And when you come home, you can start your band called The Marble Kutters of Meenakshi.
Mary Kay Seales is a travel writer and photographer, and also teaches writing at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is the owner of Closing the Circle: Copywriting that Connects, which specializes in marketing materials for the travel industry. Visit her website at www.marykayseales.com
Pictured here with one of the teachers at her workshop in Madurai.
If you want to visit South India, check out these books before you go:
Lonely Planet South India & Kerala