Sunday, October 7, 2012

In Pictures: Madurai!

Our director has fondly dubbed the weekend trip to Madurai the "Coimbatore Appreciation Trip". Why? Because Madurai is humid and hot and when you step out of the shower it's hard to know where the water ends and the sweat begins!

But Madurai is also an ancient city, known for its temples, history and stunning architecture. The city streets are built in a lotus shape and the Sri Meenakshi temple is in its midst as both the spiritual and geographical center.

Gandhi Museum
Photo Credit: Hannah Burgess
We woke up bright and early to leave Coimbatore at 5am. Most of us slept for the scenic ride there (although, those who were awake saw some wild peacocks) and were greeted with a traditional South Indian breakfast - dosa, puri, and idli on a banana leaf! Add some sweet Indian coffee and we were ready to explore Madurai.

Learning about India's independence at the Gandhi Museum.
Photo Credit: Karmen Tam
Our first stop was the Gandhi Museum which is housed in the Tamukkam Palace (an old exhibition pavilion) that belonged to Rani Mangammal from the Nayak Dynasty and was built around 1670 A.D. We spent the morning wandering the museum and learning about India's long struggle for independence from the British. Strikes and protests, which spurred the independence movement, continue to be frequent in India. In fact, many stores, restaurants and the public transportation system in Coimbatore recently closed down for a day in solidarity with those who are currently pushing for lower gas prices here. India's independence story is built around this idea of a common struggle and helps us to understand why it continues to be so prevalent today.

The hallway inside the Meenakshi Temple!
Photo Credit: Hannah Burgess
We also spent time at the Meenakshi Temple! This temple is dedicated to the goddess Parvati (known here as her avatar Meenakshi) and her partner, the god Shiva (also known as Sundareswarar). The architecture encompasses stone carvings and intricate towers, and the entire structure is repainted once every 12 years.

There are 12 gopurams (towers) at the Meenakshi Temple. The one near the Western Gate has 1511 statues carved into it!
Photo Credit: Hannah Burgess
We were able to witness and ask questions about the various activities going on at the time as well. Many devotees come to the temple to ask for babies since the temple celebrates the union of Meenakshi and Sundereswarar. As a result, the temple plays host to baby naming ceremonies and to hopeful women who throw balls of butter as offerings to images of Meenakshi.

Enjoying the view of the temple.
 From dedicated pilgrims performing pooja (worship) rituals to elephants giving blessings, the temple is a hubbub of motion as people go about their daily lives.
Drinking Kashmiri tea and learning about rugs!
Photo Credit: Karmen Tam
During the weekend we were lucky enough to be housed by the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary (TTS). The seminary follows a unique model of education where, in addition to taking courses, students participate in one of the seminary's various ministries (such as prison ministry and interfaith dialogue), do an internship at one of their organizations (like their HIV/AIDS hospice), and then spend a year living in the slums. The campus also grows much of their own food and provides vocational training for the poor in the area.

The Dalit Resource Centre at TTS.
Photo Credit: Karmen Tam

They also house their own Dalit Resource Centre on campus which contains a collection of books about the untouchables, has cultural events and advocates for Dalit rights. It was eye-opening to speak to the staff there to learn more about prejudices against untouchables and how all-pervasive it is in society. We capped off our weekend by going to Arulagam, the HIV/AIDS hospice run by TTS. They provide care to those affected in the area, which includes awareness and medication, and also house a number of children and adults. We were able to spend some time learning about their programs and then playing with the children there! Our visit to TTS and their various outreaches has made us consider what our own seminaries could look like if they chose to follow such an intentional model of serving the poor.

Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for upcoming posts!

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