tamil nadu – old and new

next to last morning in varkala – post homa ritual

before i left varkala, we had a nice homa ritual (fire ceremony) at the ashram. these are really sacred feeling events, this one dedicated to ganesha, since it was at the beginning of a new teacher training program.

next day, a nice german man from the ashram in varkala was heading to kanyakumari, so i decided i’d join him and catch the night train to madurai from there.

on the train to kanyakumari


i went to kanyakumari before, but it is a special place: the meeting of three oceans. it was also hit very hard by the tsunami of late 2004 and the stalls and fisher shacks that lined the coast were washed clear away. aside from a great place to watch both sunrise and sunset, you can also take a ferry to an island to see a giant statue of saint and poet thiruvalluvar and a temple there, all out on giant rocks off the coast.

view from the hotel window
on the bus to suchindram

michael (spiritual name maddura) and i arrived at noon and got lunch before catching a local bus to go to a nearby tample called suchindram. i had visited it before and really loved the place, so wanted to see it again. the bus was 10 rupees and took about 30 minutes. as we neared the town, a light rain began to fall, which was unusual, since this is the dry season and tamil nadu has been in a drought lately.

suchindram tank just after the rain – the temple gopuram in the background
goats hiding from the rain

the temple gates were shut until 4 pm, so we had a chai and waited. devotees in black lunghees waited with us, stealing looks at us surreptitiously, wondering what we were doing there. when the doors opened, we left out sandals outside and went in. a temple guide came and took us under his wing, which was nice. kumar was very educated about the temple and showed us things we wouldn’t have seen on our own, pointing out the 2000-year old tree that was part of the original siva-brahma-vishnu temple. now there are many smaller temples inside the bigger one: for ganesha, of course, for the nine planets of astrology, for hanuman, the monkey god (one of my favorites). i read that this hanuman statue, which is 20 feet tall, was buried to protect it and then forgotten for 200 years till it was rediscovered.

there are also some musical pillars, pillars of different widths carved from granite which, when struck properly, produce tones that can make really nice music, demonstrated for us by our guide. really magical. two pillars when struck in tandem sounded like the famous indian drums the tablas.

hindu temples in tamil nadu are painted with red and white stripes outside them
me n maddura at the temple entrance

we visited the whole temple and left to catch a bus back to kanyakumari for the sunset. we went to the gandhi memorial and climbed to the top to see the sunset. the indian people there were more interested in the white people than the sunset and wanted to take our picture and talk with us about our native places, etc. indians are romantic and always asking if you are married when you are in a male/female couple.

kanyakumari from gandhi’s memorial
our admiring fans
gandhi memorial

after sunset i bought a kerala style cotton sari from one stall and then we went to dinner at a nice veg restaurant with friendly waiters. there was a procession outside with drums and horns, devotees carrying the deity on their shoulders up to the walls of the kali temple which faces the sea, the poet’s statue, the site of the worst of the damage from the tsunami.

temple procession

kali looks terrifying, but she is the destroyer of negative energies, the dark mother of all. i have read that the black virgin known in parts of western europe was brought by the gypsies, who came from rajasthan way back, bringing with them their dark mother, kali, who became the gentle dark skinned “mary.”

a rickshaw man took me to nagercoil junction where i got the night train to madurai. on my comfy upper berth i slept till our arrival in madurai, the temple city, around 5 am. i took a rickshaw to the meenakshi temple: everything else was closed, night still clinging to the skies. after circling it once with the other pilgrims and visiting one of the least pleasant toilets of my experience, i went to deposit my chappals (flip flops) and bags at a holding place and went into the temple, lit with ghee lamps. i went around the shiva temple and into the meenakshi side – they are husband and wife and are frequently worshiped side by side. their son, ganesha, is always there as well: he is the remover of obstacles and bestows blessings on the beginnings of things. i sat by the temple tank and watched the dark skies lighten strangely through clouds that began to rain, doppling the tank with drops, putting the many giant and ornate gopurams into silhouette.

meenakshi gopuram
meenakshi temple in the morning light

in my wandering i met an austrian man named christoph and we went to breakfast when the rain ceased. like me, he had quit his job and been traveling for some time. like me he is writing and a student of astrology. we had breakfast and i read his tarot cards, so he returned the favor and looked at my birth chart. the day began to pass so quickly, i bought my train ticket for allahabad and the kumbh mela and then we went to lunch and after found a tailor to make my sari top. i decided to stay in madurai, as the top would take time to make.

my new sari (hastily wrapped) and fragrant flowers in my hair
back view

next day we went to the gandhi museum, inspiring though it is not a well organized place. after buying some books we took our extremely slow rickshaw (not an autorickshaw, but the old fashioned bicycle kind) back across the vayai river, sacred to meenakshi. we had lunch and then it was time for me to get my bus for trichy.

trichy is home to the first of 5 shiva lingam temples, each dedicated to a different element. this one is called thiruvan coil and the lingam is for the water element. the cauvery, another of india’s sacred rivers, runs through this place and the temple is on an island in the middle of it.

i arrived in trichy in the evening and got a rather expensive place for the night, but there were few options. hot water here – a luxury! and they gave a free breakfast and even have a pool, though i won’t have time to make use of it. today i’ll continue to vaitheeshwaran koil and chidaburam for some more temple visits – another lingam temple in chitaburam and perhaps a visit to a nadi palm leaf reader in vaitheeshwaran koil. we shall see. then i’ll make my way toward chennai for my morning flight tomorrow to lucknow, and from there to the kumbh mela in allahabad. more sacred rivers, more sacred rituals. the days of goan indulgence behind me, aside from the occasional gold flake cigarette as i write in my journal.

i am interested to see how the next several days pan out! wish me luck –

love and miss,



2 comments on “tamil nadu – old and new

  1. I have been there, and when i read and saw your pictures, i dream to be back there ! You are so beautiful, and you seems full of peace. Like an angel in India ! Je te souhaite encore des jours plein de bonheur.

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