Tuesday, May 29, 2007

T is for Tortoise

More from our trip to the temple Tirupati:

On the sides of the stairway up to the temple, The 10 avatars of Vishnu were displayed. Avatars are incarnations of Vishnu to rid the world of injustice whenever and wherever it appears.

Here is Koorma, the tortoise. The story goes that the gods and demons were fighting, and the gods suddenly got cursed by a sage and lost all their powers. They came to Vishnu, who told them they would have to get the nectar of immportality. To do that they had to get together with the demons to churn the ocean of milk using a mountain as a stick. But as they kept churning, the mountain started sinking. So Vishnu himself took the form of an immense tortoise and held up the mountain on his back, and the nectar came out. The demons grabbed it as once. Then Vishnu took the form of a beautiful woman and lured the nectar away from them so he could distribute it evenly. But as soon as she gave it to the gods, she disappeared, so the demons didn't get any and became weak and helpless.

Varaaha is the next avatar. He was the Achilles heel of a demon. This demon pushed the world under the sea and stole the sacred Vedas, the scriptures. No one could stop him because he got a wish that he couldn't be killed by anything. He made a list of all the animals that shouldn't kill him, and no man could either. But he missed varaha, the boar. So Vishnu took the form of a boar and killed him. Then he lifted the earth out of the sea with his tusks and restored the Vedas to the creator, Brahma.

We climbed all the way to the top and reached after 11pm, when we found our hotel and slept to get an early look at the temple in the morning.

The next day we left our simple rooms for the temple. Outside the hotel were small vendors selling coffee and other things:

The fence surrounding the hotel had pretty fleur-de-lis, which I was mesmerized by:

And guess what I saw behind it?

The temple elephant! Elephants are revered in India, and every major temple keeps one like a pet. I was still a little worried because he is chained around the ankle... Here this elephant is decorated with the mark of Vishnu and had just been carefully shaved (we watched two men with Bic razors do this!).

We then went up to the temple. Here is a picture of the outside of central water reservoir of the temple. In the olden days, people used to bathe here before entering the temple itself (so they would be clean while worshipping). Now, no one is allowed there but priests. (More pictures of the temple are here).
A hundred-thousand people visit every day, so the crowds are just awful. We got a special ticket to go in and then crammed in a sort of line with hundreds of others, who pushed and pulled to get in. It's a long walk and took us about 4 hours to actually see the statue for all of 10 seconds! (It's a beautiful statue, but all the hullaballoo makes it seem almost anticlimactic)

The best part, however, was after you are done. There were signs up that described the lovely stories associated with all the gods and goddesses, and they gave us each a handful of some form of rice dish, and some sweet laddus.

Eco-tip: Do you have bare windows? Naked windows can look nice but they offer no privacy, and worse, they are no good at saving energy. Putting up curtains, blinds, or shades will let you collect heat during the day (open) and keep it in at night (closed) in the winter, and reflect heat in the summer (closed).


Erin said...

Very interesting stories and breathtaking photos! I love learning new things about India. I have read several books that take place in India and am currently reading "Water" by Bapsi Sidhwa. Thanks for sharing your photos and stories!

rani said...

Thanks! I haven't read Water but I've seen the movie. Other fave Indian-author reads: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, Yagnaseni by Pratibha Ray, and Under the Banyan Tree by RK Narayan.