So I met Kavya on the bus from Chennai to Pondicherry. Great gal. Super friendly and really generous with her hotspot. After a bit of getting to know each other – chatting about general life things, like university and Hindu Gods – Kavya invited me to visit her hometown, Karaikal. You know, just so she could show me around because that’s the kind of nice thing that happens when you travel.
Kavya’s old man just built this big Hindu temple there. That’s on top of owning a civil engineering company and a factory and some other impressive things which I can’t remember.
They really get into their Hinduism, this mob. It’s their thang. Kavya’s family is considered orthodox. However they’re also like, heaps mod. I mean Kavya had “twenty gee bees” of data on one of her three mobile phones. Know-wad-I’m-sayin’?
Obviously I was honoured and delighted when she asked me to come to a ceremony at her dad’s temple on Friday night. Normally I don’t get chuffed about anything remotely doctrinal. But when you’ve been hiding in your room all day because you stupidly gave your number to a scary volleyball player in the room next door… Well, a bit of worshipping in the fresh air seems rather appealing.
The temple had a wall built around it, I guess to keep the Mexicans out.
And in the middle of the dusty enclosed yard was a sheltered area where everyone sat and lit candles; prepared offerings of food, flowers and other things I wanted to steal and give to the beggars.
Dotted around the joint were six little tomb-like constructions, each containing a different God, dressed up all jazzy like this one.
I received my first spiritual forehead dustin’ within just minutes of arriving.
I was asked to sit down and wait while everything got prepared for the ceremony. This cool cat and I just chilled out, smiling at each other, unable to communicate with language.
“Jessica, come join us while we bathe the Sri Varahi.”
Sri Varahi is the “pig-face God,” I’m told.
We all sat around watching as the shirtless Swami Gs gave the God a good hose down.
A Swami G is “an ascetic or yogi who has been initiated into the religious monastic order, founded by some religious teacher”.
I believe the G stands for ‘Guru’, not ‘Gangster’.
Then we all dilly dallied around for an hour, lighting more candles and being peacefully spiritual with the occasional phone going off.
I went and made friends with the temple’s strays. This is Rosie. Like many strays, she has a skin condition.
I also spent some time studying the detail of the newly constructed temple, and found the answer to a question I’d been pondering for a few days. You see, in India, everything looks old and poorly maintained. I just assumed that everything was old and poorly maintained. But as it just so happens, this temple was only finished in June 2016. So it’s not that it’s poorly maintained, it’s just that a smooth clean finish isn’t really a high priority in any sort of building trade.
As dark started to set in, we were all invited to congregate around the Swami Gs as they prepared to make prayers to the Sri Varahi God, through fire. Well, I was invited. Everyone else just knew where they were supposed to be at the right time.
They had to call me over from playing with the strays. I also noticed no one else was playing with the strays and I’m pretty sure I found a flea on me.
On the way to the temple Kavya’s dad had told me that they pray to their Gods in one of four ways: Through music, through spelling out the God’s name, via “miracle” and by fire.
I feel like they chose fire this time to impress me.
The four Swamis sat real close to the fire; they fed it wood, butter, bananas, chillis, flowers, among other treats – like people’s prayers written on leaves. All the while chanting mantras loud and masculine-like. At one point it seemed like two of them were trying to compete in who could make the biggest ruckus.
I actually started to fear for their safety as the fire grew more wild. They barely moved as the flames tickled their tummies causing a lot of “ohhhing” and “ahhhing”. Apparently that’s all part of the ceremonial challenge – allowing the fire to heat you right up like a BBQ chicken.
I was relieved when it was all over. Four hours of making praise to something you don’t understand is quite enough in the most comfortable of situations. But we were all sitting on hard cement, and my skeleton couldn’t handle it after years of poor ergonomics in an office chair.
Plus I’d been blessed three times and was ready to go home and connect to the wifi to tell somebody.
Alas! It wasn’t quite over as there was still a bit of healing and evil-spirit alleviating to be done. I went and played with the strays again.
That is, until I heard mad laughter coming out of this woman.
She started screaming and hyperventilating.
Choking and speaking in tongues. Well, obviously it sounded like tongues to me. I suppose it was just her native language.
She really was making a scene, it was great. A Hindu exorcism. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better end to the evening.
The best part was, everyone was telling me to get my camera out and take photos.
And everyone thought it was funny as I did.
Swami G started squirting oil directly in her face. And then sat down and lit a fire in front of her.
At this point I wondered why I hadn’t been filming it from the beginning.
Without knowing the language it’s hard to know what caused the whole shambozzle to end. However, removing the language from the situation and simply observing dynamics alone, I felt like everybody just thought it had gone on long enough and wanted to go home.
The lady having the evil spirit removed noticed that Swami G was packing up, so she quietened down and started rolling around by herself.
And that was the end of that. Most people had gone home after the fire prayers. Apparently it’s not an uncommon end to an evening such as this one, so I guess if you’ve seen the devil drawn out once, it’s much of a muchness?
That’s a bit like temples and things for me. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. But that’s why this whole experience was so totally great. It wasn’t remotely touristy, it was just Hindu Indians coming together and doing their thang.
If you’re ever in Karaikal and want to experience the same thing, I have no doubt Kavya would love to have you along. If you’re not a dick. They are extremely humble and generous people, even with the language barriers we were all havin’ a laugh.
Get in touch with me via email and I’ll hook a traveller up.