Saturday, June 18, 2005

India's junk yards?

Every state in the US has a nickname - e.g., Pennsylvania is called the Keystone State, California the Golden State. Likewise some states in India have such names too. Andhra is referred to as the Rice Bowl of India.

And Tamilnadu (my home-state) is called, appropriately, the Land of Temples. In fact, the official emblem of the state is a gopuram, the temple gateway tower. One can find temples of varying size, antiquity, denomination and popularity in every village, town and city. Like any other family in Tamilnadu, most of our family's travels were actually pilgrimages, most of the weddings took place close to an ancient temple, and every festival was marked by a visit to the neighbourhood shrines.

Temples are not merely places of "idol worship," but (especially the ancient ones) have deeper spiritual significance as well. They are also the sites of social gathering of the community - Marriages, musical performances, discourses, etc. And performing the customary 3 pradakshinas around the sprawling temples is as good an exercise as any treadmill workout.

However, as I wrote in one of the articles, my visits to most temple towns generally end up only distressing me. The squalour of the mada streets. The bazaars that mar the tranquility of the shrine. Stampedes during major festivities. The granite majesty lost under layers of garish paint that make me wince. The discrimination between pilgrims ("General darshan," "special darshan," "VIP darshan"). Indiscriminate modifications to the original structure. The walls of the sanctum sanctorum covered by bathroom tiles.

The result being totally ungodly.

However, there are thankfully some exceptions. I have noticed that most of the ASI-maintained temples are in a relatively better condition than the government-owned ones. And of the three temples I visited in Kerala, the Vadakkunnatha temple (Thrissur), the Guruvayur temple and the nearby Mammiyur temple, all were preserved close to their original grandeur, unlike the numerous ones in Tamilnadu.

But such heartening situations are few and far between. Shekhar Gupta is right - temples are indeed India's junk yards.

Post-script:
The Indian Express has a series of articles on India's heritage monuments, most of whom are in a sorry state: Hampi (the capital of the Vijayanagara kingdom), the Konark sun temple, the Qutub Minar, the Elephanta caves, and more. They all paint a distressing picture.

7 comments :

Charu said...

Srikanth, if you think temples in the SOuth are dirty, you must see some of the ones in the North - in fact, the more 'popular' the temple, the dirtier it is - i was in Varanasi on work a couple of months ago - and I went to the vishwanath temple there - more like I was dragged there - and the place is so dirty it is unbelievable - there is no sanctity of any sort there... as opposed to this, Madurai Meenakshi and Thanjavur and Kanchipuram are all fairly decently manintained...

Sunil said...

Well written post.

But it is impossible to generalize "north" and "south". The temples in Kerala and Karnataka (especially western Karnataka) are clean and well maintained (even the major ones, like Udupi, Sringeri, Guruvayur etc). In stark contrast are the major temple towns of Tamil Nadu and Andhra.

The temples in UP, Bihar and sometimes Bengal can be quite a mess...but visit temples in Rajasthan or Gujarat, and they are usually spotless, and often built in white marble.......

So.....

But that said...Kerala and TN contrast in soo many ways. Malayalam...though directly derived from Tamil, is the more mellifluous. Kerala is green, TN parched. You'll be ripped off by auto drivers in Chennai, in Trivandram, they'll be extremely polite (and often have Bachelors or Masters degrees!).

Charu said...

Sunil, you are making the same mistake as many others do - Rajasthan and Gujarat and in the West, not the North - there is vast difference beteen states of the west (R, G and Maharasthra) - here I mean typical Northern states such as UP and MP...
sure, lumping four extremely differnt states as the South and the rest of the country as the North is a bad way of doing things, but sometimes this has helped me come to terms with things better - especially when I travel alone on work...

Sunil said...

hmm....never said R, G and M were in the North....
Just was pointing out that "lumping" doesn't really work. Especially w.r.t. the south.....Kerala, Karnataka, TN and Andhra are all quite different....though the borders are blurred.

Srikanth said...

Hi Charu and Sunil,
Sorry to be a little late on the discussion.

I haven't been to too many temples north of even Tirupati, leave alone those north of the Vindhyas (except for a tour to Rishikesh-Haridwar-Badarinath so long back that I do not remember details). Which is why I have not discussed them.

But I do remember one interesting fact: At Haridwar (Har-ki-Pauri), the banks of the Ganga was paved with polished marble! Isn't it common knowledge that water on marble can be slippery?

But Charu is right about the Tanjore Big Temple, one of the better maintained and preserved ones - maybe because (as I mentioned in my post) it is under ASI control.

But I was focusing not merely on the cleanliness (probably my title was misleading) but also: The importance of preserving an atmosphere of sanctity, ensuring the health of the structure of the ancient ones (which are also important historical monuments), etc.

Seeing the majestic gopurams cloaked in gaudy colours and thoughtless modifications being made to old temples, saddened me.

These thoughts came back to me as I read Shekhar Gupta's article on the Madurai temple, and hence the post.

Sunil said...

Nothing depresses as much as the Madurai temple.......the fools have actually paved the temple tank with concrete....thereby ensuring that a live tank, fed by underground springs, dies. Also, ensuring that the water does not seep back in to rejuvinate the ground water.

too many temples have lost their feeling of sanctity......especially in TN.

Srikant......you might know....that temple tanks in south india (especially the Tanjore belt) served a huge role in preserving ground water.......

Srikanth said...

Sunil, you have hit upon an important aspect. In water-starved Tamilnadu, what could be more better than the tanks of the numerous temples, replenishing the ground-water table, being a reservoir for the neighbourhoods.

Yet...