Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On Monday morning, our landlady Jayanti asked us to come to temple. We would be leaviing at 10am. (We actually left at 11:30.) Gopal didn't want to come. I had never been invited to go to temple with my neighbors and was very glad to go. I had to solicit help with my saree from Mariama. The first surprise was that we rode in a car with my neighbor Janaki's family. The second surprise was that we went to a different temple than I had imagined they went to. The reality is that I know nothing about any of this. The third surprise was that I was expected to wear a white cotton shawl, so I found a white cotten lungi of Gopal's and wore that. My little friend Shriya came with us.

After doing a few circumnavigations of the first little temple, we walked up the lane to Jayanti's sister's house, where her sister gave me a different white shawl to wear because mine was yellowed compared to everyone else's. ahem. Following Jayanti's lead, we (Shriya, Jayanti and I) left our shoes at Jayanti's sister's (big mistake). Barefoot, we climed up the hill to the Badaga Hindu temple where everyone wears white. It's part of their culture. I have not been in many temples. This was larger than expected and very crowded. I followed Jayanti around the periphery where we paid our respects to several gods, one she revered as her grandmother. Then we joined the crowd surrounding several swamis who were moving to drums and chanting, one apparently giving blessings to selected people. It appeared to me that the swamis would toss a small bunch of flowers into the crowd. The person catchiing the flowers would come into the center of the circle to receive a special blessing from the holy man. Often the people singled out were parents holding small children.

The sun in the Nilgiri Hills is intense. This temple was painted white with dirt floor smeared with dried dung. The shady spots were full of people, so we had to do our best to shade ourselves with our shawls. Eventually, food began to be served. We all sat wherever we could. We each received a banana leaf (used as a plate). Someone came around with a pitcher of water so we could each rinse our hands and sprinkle a little on the banana leaf. Then came the rice, a little ghee (clarified butter), and a vegetable stew. South Indians eat with their hands, so so did I. (Did I bring my hand sanitizer? No!) In the meantime, I was cooking. (Did I bring my sunscreen? No!) (Did I know that going to temple meant being out in the sun? No!) Living and learning.

As we all left the temple, stopping by a water spout to wash our hands, Jayanti asked if I would be willing to go to another temple. So off we went, further up the hill. The way up was long and over some badly paved stretches of path (remember we're still barefoot). We ended up in a clearing behind a large, fancy house with a great garden. I think it was the CEO's house of the cordite factory where they make bombs and sell them to the military base nearby. There was a big Badaga cultural event going on in that clearing. (There were chairs!) Again, it was crowded with people continuing to stream in. Badaga native music was playing, and the men were beginning to dance native Badaga dance. Soon, boys and girls joined in. Eventually, to my relief, Badaga women finally joined in. Can you imagine?! Fantastic!

In the meantime, we were seated in rows of plastic chairs. A young girl (6?) named Aishwarya introduced herself to me from the row in front of us. Soon, a girl (7?) who knew Shriya in school came over to talk to me. Pretty soon, all three of the little girls were singing songs to me in English, including "We Shall Overcome." I finally had to ask them to be quiet so I could listen and enjoy the Badaga music and dance. Banana leaves were again distributed, as well as a channa (chickpeas, garlic, etc.) and sweet pongal (rice/milk pudding). After we ate, Jayanti lead us to the little temple right there, after we washed our hands. As I believed we were leaving, we went to watch the dancing more closely. Shriya is a good dancer, and I thought she wanted to dance. So, I tried to get her out there to dance with me. She was too shy. I was scared to death of trying to dance a dance I didn't know and in a saree no less. I was afraid of tripping on my saree. Not to mention that I stuck out like a sore thumb, being so white and so tall. But as soon as I made a move toward the dancing area, I was swept into the dancing. One woman was kind enough to lead me in the dancing. It was wonderful. Everyone was so thrilled to see this elder white lady dancing their dance, I think. After that, on our way out, I was deluged with people wanting to shake my hand and tell me what a good dancer I was. So nice. I was terrible out there, but they are gracious people, ya know?

Then, the walk all the way down the hill to our shoes was long and on very bad pavement/non pavement. My feet were terribly sore when we finally arrived back at Jayanti's sister's. It was heaven to just sit in her front room, have a cup of hot water, and answer questions in English from Jayanti's brother-in-law. Everyone is so nice. When we left the house, all her neighbors were crowded around wanting me to come eat at their houses. I just wanted to go home. It was the cutest, coziest little neighborhood far off the main road. Charming and so friendly.

My feet were so glad to be back in my sandals. We walked home from there. It was such a nice day. A good way for me to get to know Jayanti better too. (Shriya and I were pretty tired.)

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