Photos from the Shoebox: Madurai India 1991
If you had a 35mm camera you probably have a shoebox full of pictures that you never got around to sorting and putting in an album. In this series “Photos from the Shoebox” I take them out of the closest and shine light on them once more.
It’s been three months of hard travelling and I’m on my own now. My travelling girlfriend is heading back to Canada while I’ve got a little more time here in India before I push on to South East Asia. We parted ways in Trivandrum and I’m on my way to Madurai. The bus passes through spectacular mountain terrain as it goes through the Western Ghats leaving Kerala behind.
Madurai is built around the Shree Meenakshi Temple. The temple is surrounded by 12 Gopurams completely covered with sculptures of gods, demons, mortals and animals. As one travel book describes it, “They’re as crowded and busy as any Indian city street.” It’s a fantastic sight.
This ancient temple city has been called the ‘Athens’ of South India. It’s history dates back to the 3rd century BC. I get to the city around 1 in the afternoon and after finding a room at the New College House I roam the streets towards the temple. The streets are absolutely teeming with life.
Here there is sidewalk hawkers, locals, pilgrims by the busload, beggars, kids asking for pens, buses, rickshaws and motorcycles. At one point I’m swarmed by guys wanting to show me their shops. I’m surprised by the many Tibetans and Kashmiri vendors on the street and find out they come down from the north during the winter months to sell Tibetan arts and crafts. One vendor I visit has set up shop in a hotel room.
I’m here during the Theppam Festival so there is bus loads of devotees. I guess I’m lucky to have found a room.
I circle around the complex and find the right entrance gate (through the East Gopuram). Here’s a few interesting rules for entering the temple: devotees should not enter the temple without taking bath; devotees are not allowed to enter the temple with footwear; female devotees should not enter the temple for the first 5 days of their menstruation period; and devotees with uncomfortable injuries are not allowed inside the temple.
Devotees line a pillared corridor surrounding the ‘Golden Lotus Tank’ that’s within the complex. This sacred temple tank is where devotees take a bath in holy water for prosperity.
The ‘Aayiram Kaal Mandapam’ or ‘Thousand Pillar Hall’ has 985 carved pillars and was built around 1560 A.D. Here it feels as if time stood still.
The figures of deities on the tower are repaired, repainted and ritually reconsecrated every 12 years. Usually the temple is painted in bright hues but back in 1991 was almost totally void of colour.