India 6: Hindu temple Festival WOW

In Verkala where I left you last, we solved the “Iman with a mega loud horn”  problem by moving hotels.  Not far, just to the cliff top.  We had a short lived quandary re hotel choice. Style (loft style to be precise) in a  remote location  but with in-house yoga and an Ayurvedic clinic. Or a better located hotel with a ground floor room available  just three steps from a lovely swimming pool at half the price. Style v pool?  Head v heart?  So we took a taxi  to the  stylish haven and the  loft was rented  only five minutes ago said  the Dutch receptionist with a  streaming cold (great front of house representative for the Ayurvedic clinic – not!)
So this is our third day as plebs by the pool  and fate was kind to us. The pool is heavenly ( its 33 degrees just now ) so frequent dips are needed. We have comfortable  sun beds to lounge on, large  umbrellas for shade and a languid wave brings a pot of tea. Perfect!
This part of Verkala is touristy and fun for a few days. It is slightly hippyish with rows of  shops and many restaurants along the North cliff all with touts to lure you in. I had my best fish  dinner so far, Blue Marlin. With chips!  You can take the girl out of Yorkshire but fish n chips are in the girl! It was utterly delicious but seeing my  portion being  carved from its recently deceased and beautiful silvery body made me uncomfortable ….. I’m starting to really think about why any living thing should die  so I can eat …. though  I  think it might be a while before I give up the notion that the sole function of a salmon is to  be smoked and  top a bagel!
Night shopping has yielded only two sarongs with Oms on and one with Buddhas!  I did pretend to be a Princess in a posh shop  and had very short lived lust for the  world’s most expensive (and illegal) pashmina. A type of shawl called a cartouche, so fine that it will pass through a wedding ring, but £1500 for a glorified scarf !  I  resisted very easily and then posed in  a  nine row sapphire necklace which matched my eyes. Lucky I am happy with my spiritual sarongs!
Now for the exciting stuff !  We were SO lucky to be here for a major Hindu Festival, described by Lonely Planet as ” the granddaddy of all Utsavam” at the  apparently famous nearby Puram Temple.
I’m going to have my work cut out describing in words this amazing and  crazy, colourful ear-splitting carnival on speed!  This is one occasion where the word awesome is accurate.  We arrived to see an explosion of colours, tinsel,  balloons, stalls, women in their most  brilliantly coloured saris, excited children with kohl rimmed eyes, sadhus and hippies,  huge  twirling  sequined parasols plus several highly bedecked elephants and a hundred musicians all gathered together in  the temple courtyard, What a wonderful and glorious sight!
First the elephants with their  wonderful gold or silver or red head dresses were led by their mahout in a procession around the courtyard. Up close as we were,  you don’t want one of them to accidentally stand on your bare toes! Then the orchestra started to play. It consisted  of many  bare-chested young men wearing just white cotton mundu (like a short sarong gathered between the legs) drumming very loudly and rhythmically in front of the ellie’s (not sure how much they appreciated it !) The boys drummed with so much passion, we were in the thick of it and I could feel it throbbing in my body like the music  at a rock concert ….. Then came some thin C shaped wind instruments like very skinny trumpets, practically blowing their brains out with pursed lips and furrowed brows and red-brown faces. There is no half heartedness around here!  They were standing right next to us,  it was a cacophony of sound building building building to a zenith then down again gracefully, slow drumming now,  and  then back up again, all the way to deafening – but in a good way! So much energy and  so much passion. It was so exciting and just wonderful!
Added to this heady mix, centre stage  came three twirling  Indian style Dame  Edna’s!  Young men with false bosoms and heavy make up,  dancing  and swaying coquettishly. Then came many cymbals crashing and clanging plus the noise made by thousands of  very excited spectators and I still don’t know if I have sufficiently described the incredible  passionate energy of this great occasion. We had a blast!
I was anointed on my forehead with grey aromatic ash (I’m hoping it wasn’t human!) by an old sadhu with kind wise eyes and felt a moment of connection with him and I felt moved by the Blessing he bestowed. We ate snacks sold from sacks (probably not the wisest) and pistachio Cornettos, mmm!
I was given tri-coloured dimpled balloons  by someone who afforded me the chance to donate mine to enchanting babies in their Mummy’s arms. Oh it was all absolutely wonderful and I loved every single second.
Afterwards I read in the Hindu Times that somewhere else this week two elephants  ran amok in a temple killing someone and confirming what the guide book said,  that  the randy males crack under the strain sometimes (typical men!)  and an average of fifty people a year are killed at festivals and many injured. I am glad I didn’t know that when I was standing about 3 feet away from those big tusks and huge feet!
The whole celebration seemed  to be about worshipping elephants. Ganesh obviously, but living ones too, I suppose as the embodiment of Ganesh. Apparently there are even elephant beauty competitions called Gaja Raja and if I carry on eating like this I could soon be a contender!
I wish I was an accomplished enough writer to paint a picture of the heat and dust, the throbbing beat which felt like the very pulse of India, the smells of incense, food and bodies,  the gorgeous children and their mothers in  party – best jewel coloured saris and  the sheer excitement pervading everything and the warmth  and openness of the smiles for us. It was a fabulous and memorable experience I shall treasure forever.
We left  there and our mini bus went on to another temple through the villages along the way, the streets thronged with thousands of people all waiting to see the procession of elephants, dancers and drummers following us, so we were like the warm up act  for the main event with excited  people smiling and waving at us as if we were celebrities or royalty!
Soon we arrived at another complex of very small temples, a central one flanked by two tiny structures all containing Deities.  It was such a completely different vibe than the craziness before  that I sobered up immediately. This temple was 1500  years old  and there were just a few devout worshippers and gate keepers around.  Shoes came  off as is  usual and we were allowed to peer into the dark and tiny, very dimly lit interior. It was quite moving, and I could feel that indefinable spiritual  energy that  I love, of  being in places where many  heartfelt prayers have been made.
I have been reading a little about Hinduism to add to the tiny bit of knowledge I learned when I was in India before and in some ways the main precepts are akin to Buddhism, and most religions come to that, except that in Buddhism there are no gods.
So that was it, our glorious techni-coloured day. Tired and happy and very hot we came back to Hotel Deshadan, our room named Jaipur after the pink city but bearing  no resemblance at all! It was very comfortable though and the hotel can be recommended. There was time  for a delicious late swim in the cool water  and  another delicious meal whilst people watching on the fairy -lit cliff side. I so  hope I have conveyed to you  a little of the flavour of our wonderful temple day and that you too felt a little of the heat and passion of India.
PS  I am writing this in bed with a slight touch of sunstroke I think. Gary the Gekko, admittedly very tiny,  has now disappeared from his spot on the ceiling. Oh dear!
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