Last week I took some of the guests to visit our local town of Dindigul, a great place to see life as it is for millions of Indian people today. Whilst there we were lucky enough to witness the Masi festival of the local Kottai Mariamman Temple.
The streets were crowded with people there for the opening ceremony of the month long festival. First of all we came across stalls which were giving away free food – sponsored by local temples or businesses.
We then moved into the Palani road. This is where we usually buy electronic goods, computer equipment, building supplies etc. yet on this day we found it to be a swirling riot of colours, incredible noise and subtle scents. For me it felt very strange to see the road thronged with people carrying their temple gifts on their heads…
…or playing their drums for the deity.
An incredible mixture of the ancient and modern. But that was just the beginning! To our surprise we saw a temple elephant leading the procession.
A beautiful creature decked out in its festival finery and decorative paint.
Three men accompanied the elephant – two on foot and one riding – to ensure that she remained calm and played her role to perfection.
As with all temple elephants, this one could be persuaded to pass on her blessing. All that our guest was required to do was to place 10 rupees in her trunk (which she passed to her mahout) and then bow his head for her to place her trunk on him in blessing.
Many people handed their children up to sit on the elephant – either to take a photo or as a blessing – but many of the children were not impressed!
The amount of time that goes into preparing the elephants robes is impressive.
We thought we had seen everything and were just about to move on when the car carrying the goddess approached.
This was a huge trailer covered in flowers, the bright patters which adorned it were also flowers attached to the superstructure. The worshippers pushed and jostled and crowded around to get as close as they could to hand over gifts of flowers either at this car or one of the ones following.
There were thousands of people, each with their small bag of flowers, and the scent was overpowering. The flowers were to be used by the priests during the day as they offered unbroken puja (worship) to the goddess for 24 hours, so everyone knew that their flowers would be placed on the shrine at some point during the day.
The festival will continue for the rest of this month although the remaining processions will take place at night so that more people can attend – and stop further disruption to one of the busiest streets in Dindigul.
We consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon such an act of worship in the middle of a bustling town, and to have been treated with such kindness and generosity by all whom we met –both man and beast!
For the local newspaper article please see The Hindu