Madurai 24th Jan

I couldn’t stay in yesterday it just wasn’t right too. I’d stepped out not really sure of where to go and the temples had been lost to view tumble and scrum in my minds eye. I’d gotten myself a little map from the front desk and just stepped out into the fray. I was expecting to be mobbed, but it didn’t happen. In fact it has been remarkable in how easy going it has been. There are 1 or 2 people or even 3 or 4 … ok lots more who have asked me to buy something. But no tugging at shirts no hounding and mobbing. I haven’t run screaming back to the hotel. Mostly people have been saying “hello” I even got a “hi baby”  Mostly people have just come up and said

“Hello, where are you from?”

I tell them,

“I’m Michael from London”

We shake hands and then all of us walk off smiling. If I’ve caught somebody’s eye I have simply smiled and said ‘hello’ and waved a gentle wave. It has had a 98% success rate of having it returned with a very surprised but very happy hello. Genuinely I have just been walking along smiling, like I haven’t in years, and it seems the Hindus have allowed me or at least I allowed myself and they have just encouraged me. It might be a different pond stream or river, but I’m loving learning to swim here.

I will probably say this a hundred times before the end of this week never mind the end of 3 months. But I have never seen anything like it. I was expecting something and Madurai hasn’t disappointed so far. I wandered out at first with my chest out, you know like a big male gorilla or like an Elephant does with its ears to look bigger and tougher, I’d have stuck my ears out too if I could have done, they probably thought something was wrong with me. My display lasted about 5 minutes and it was such a relief to let it go.

First day in Madurai

I walked slowly swinging my long legs through the teeming streets. Noisy is an understatement really. London is a noisy place too but London grinds and screams, it can hurt there at times and you need to shield your ears. This is a different thing. If you have a horn and it seems that everybody does, you just sound it all the time. It has obviously become second nature to all the people who live and drive here and if you haven’t got a car or bike or tuk tuk then you peddle and you get a bell. But one thing I haven’t heard yet is a police siren, interesting. There is constant music coming at you at all times from all directions, it fits so perfectly. Its seems everybody has their own personal ring tone and there all ringing at the same time, or the tuk tuks have their own radio channels and have them all turned up. I understand now why back in London first thing in the morning and some Indian guy is playing his I pod on speakers on the tube. It really irritated me then, but the poor guy was probably from Tamil Nado, just trying to relax and thinking of home. I shall try be more forgiving in future.

I’d remembered the temple here called the Sri Meenakshi Sundarwarar Temple. The largest Hindu temple in Asia I have been told, probably the largest in India. So I turned my radar on and then began to see the towers above the roof tops and made my way towards them . It is just out of this world not only because of its beauty but because of the narrow surrounding streets you walk through to get to there. Ram packed with of sellers, peddlers and pilgrims of what look like many many different branches and sects of Hindus. Cows and goats tuk tuks motorbikes busses and trucks. The roads aren’t so much dirty as full of dust and sand maybe 3000 years worth of it, built up over the century’s since Lord Shiva married Meenakshi here all that time ago. I’ve been told various dates when the temple was built I believe it was actually 600 years ago. I’ll get it right tomorrow.

Anyway as I approached the front of the temple I was instantly snatched away by an old lady who assured me her son would like to meet me. I’m a sucker for an old lady and was of course guided to a really remarkable antique shop right in front of the temple where the manager Jan showed me up to the roof top. He was a smooth as silk but I wasn’t buying anything in my first hour in town but enjoyed his company and what he had to tell me. He very obviously loved it here. He was enjoying himself too.  The view from his roof top was amazing. All six towers stood in all their multicoloured multi-tiered glory against clear blue skies set in lush green trees. We stood a while and talked about the Crows which I love and which were all around his roof top. He told me they called them Cacau’s I assured him they were friends of mine. He really did treat me to a wonderful overview of the Hindu gods and the history. He let me store my shoes in his shop as you were only allowed in the temple bare foot. I was grateful to him. Gosh but it was such a wonderful thing to take my boots off, I hadn’t since London, and walk bare foot down the street.

Then I was inside with the swifts swooping through the air making their strange winning sound, cloud of birds circling the great carved and coloured towers,  incense blowing out of great doorways, massive ancient walls, long pillared painted temple ceilings walls and gods. Round a corner was the temple Elephant blessing people who would hold a coin in their open hand, the elephant took it with its trunk then patted the person on the head then slipped the owner the coin who put it in a little bag under his shirt. I wandered through the interior for a few hours not quite believing I was there, pacing slowly and gently along its smooth coo; chalked floors, peering into alcoves at the strange gods and goddesses. I Sat and listened to the musicians almost casually sitting crossed legged on a rug on the floor playing a hand organ, tabla and hand bells, the two male singers were remarkable. I was lifted out of myself for a while. I took pictures and was awed by the humour and lightheartedness of most people in there. People would stare at me at first and I would simply smile at them say

“Hello” and wave gently

They would just light up. It really was a wonderful thing, they would wave back with wonderful happy smiles. A guy here and there would try to attach themselves to me and become my guide, I was gentle but firm and said thank you but I’m going to be on my way now. They all accepted it gracefully. I meditated out in the court yard. Well what better place, it’s what it was  built for. It was beautiful. I really got something from it. As I wandered for the few hours in there I also got a little emotional I felt it welling up inside of me. I also kept chuckling to myself. I was touched by the place and by the people and really I was happy.Madurai Evening

Then back out into the streets and dreamily and casually made my way back to the hotel. I had a meal up on the roof top restaurant listening to the din from the city below. The Christian church that is built across the road at a massive crazy intersection signals the hours with what to me sounds remarkably like an ice cream van when it pulls up in the street in England, then its strange musical bells chime the hours. Then the competition, the call to prayer from 2 different mosques loud speakers and all set to a back drop of thousands of horns bells, stereos, and ring tones. At one point I simply burst out laughing a real hearty laugh, the first one for a long time. I slept very well last night.

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