Saturday, October 24, 2009
Madurai is a city of 1.19 million people and it feels like they've all come to see you once you step off the train. There is the constant presence of someone behind you here as all sense of personal space must have disappeared a millennia ago. Just when I though we traded in one teeming, hot, polluted city for another, two wonderful things happened; Sri Meenakshi Temple and Diwali.
The Sri Meenakshi Temple rises from the city like a towering reminder of the enduring spiritualality of India. It occupies six hectares with 12 gopurams (towers) of varying sizes with the 4 main towers elevating up to 50 meters. The towers themselves are breathtakingly beautiful. Each is intricately craved and a kaliedoscope of color. I'm pretty sure Matt and Jen grew weary of my constant photo taking.
The interior of the temple is just as magnificent as the gopurams outside. Detailed deity sculptures, intensely colorful ceiling paintings and an elephant blessing people combine to instantly burn this moment to memory. Hundreds of worshipers light candles and put colored ash on the deities as tribute as you try not to get in their way while you're the typical tourist snapping pictures.
Diwali (Festival of Lights) is a five day festival where Indians celebrate the victory of good over evil, Lord Raamas's defeat of Ravana. Unbeknown to us, we arrived on the first day of Diwali and there seemed to be little fanfare towards this festival or so we thought. By sheer coincidence we ended up on a rooftop restaurant for dinner. As we sat there ordering our food, there seemed to be a couple fireworks going off with plenty of firecrackers going off on in the streets below. Before we knew it the entire sky was lit up by fireworks. No matter which way I turned my head there were explosions of light 360 degrees around me. This city wide effort went on for 2-3 hours. I'd never seen such an event. It was as if the city of Madurai was on fire.