Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Custom Clothes and Sleeping with the Gods
We left the hotel in Chettinad and headed towards Madurai. In the morning we went to a weaving gallery. We spent quite a bit of time there looking at textiles. They are all cotton. They are woven in homes by 57 different families. We all purchased textiles. To give you an idea of the costs of things in India, the fabric I picked out was enough to make a man’s kurta – 2 ½ yards of material. It cost me $ 6.00. Later on in the day we went to a tailor. He took all of my custom measurements and is charging me $8.00 to make a custom shirt for me - which he will deliver to the hotel tomorrow.
We had a new traffic obstruction today peacock crossing the road. We then went on a tour of a local mansion. The very rich family had built it 120 years ago, and has recently donated it as a museum. It was very interesting to Cathy and me, because we have read many books set in such homes and have seen them in Indian Cinema, now we got to see it in person.
We then went to a tile factory. It is very primitive; all the tiles are created and decorated one by one. The craftsman sits near colored cement and has a tile size mold. He places a clear sheet of glass at the bottom of the mold. He then places a metal design mode in it or work free hand depending on the design. He pours very thick colored cement on the tile, then either leaves the color as is or stirs is to make a design. He then covers that with sand then fills the mode with cement. He flips the mold over removes it and voila there is a perfectly created tile! The amazing thing is that the resultant tiles look like marble. It was interesting and I will never look at a tile floor in the same way again!
On the drive back to the hotel for lunch we came across a spot where a stretch where the entire road was covered with rice that was being thrashed by hand and by the weight of the cars driving over the rice. We stopped the car got out and took pictures and movies. The drive back was typically harrowing. You see almost no private cars in the countryside.
We are still struck by how many obviously poor villages we drive through yet EVERY woman without exception is dressed in a clean Sari or other uniquely Indian clothing. You would never see a woman in Levi’s or any other western apparel, ever! There is no sign of American culture here. No Starbucks (sorry Jill), no McDonalds or KFC, no American obvious influence. I am sure it will be different in Bombay. The controlled chaos of driving in the city combined with the hoards of people on the streets is simply not able to be captured by word, or photo. You have to be in India to appreciate it.
At our hotel we had an excellent lunch served Southern Indian style on a banana leaf. I had awakened in the morning with what is jokingly called: Delhi Belly. I seriously wondered if I would be able to join the group. We had some extremely strong prescription antibiotics I took them at 7am and by 8:30 or so I decided I could risk going out. The pills did their trick and the day proceeded without difficulty. I have no idea why I got sick, I had been careful. Oh well!
On the way our guide began to explain to us about the other sacred Hindu legend the Mahabharata. This legends, characters and Gods of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are so deep and complex I know we are only scratching the service. However the more you know about them the more the sculptures, literature, paintings, dance and temples are understandable. They are a unifying force for understanding India. Because there are long drives between cities and temples (long in time to drive through the crazy traffic, not in distances) we have plenty of time for our traveling lectures provided by our guide on India. We are a happy captivated audience.
After lunch we checked out of the hotel and continued our drive. We had peacock sightings and vulture sightings and monkeys crossing the street in front of our van. Once again it was hot and humid. We arrived at our destination The Taj hotel in Madurai about 6pm and had a quick check-in and headed out for the evening. We had another amazing drive through the packed city as we drove to a private demonstration of Southern Indian dance performed by a very talented interpreter of the dances to the gods. When the dance demonstration was over the tailors appeared and took all our vital measurements for the clothes they are making from the textilea we purchased in the morning. It will all be delivered to us tomorrow.
We then went to the main temple for another amazing ceremony. Inside the inner sanctum of the temple the The Lord Shiva is taken out of its resting place and transported on a palanquin accompanied by loud music, fire, incense and smoke to join his consort, the goddess Parvatti to spend the night with her. We followed the bearers thr9ugh the halls of the ancient temple to a spot where they rested the palanquin and then the faithful marched around the god and after his feet are washed he is taken to spend the night with Parvatti. The faithful follow the idol into the inner sanctum - non-Hindus are not allowed in. We then walked through the temple complex to find our van. One of the women got lost in the streets. The various guides know each other and one came to our rescue. He hopped on his motorcycle and started driving back and forth down the old narrow streets. Some how she was found and soon appeared, this middle aged zaftig Jewish woman riding side-saddle on the back of a motorcycle. Maybe the Gods do look after us. We then drove back to the hotel for a 10pm dinner outdoors overlooking the city. What will tomorrow bring?