Temple Hopping in India
Starting our India temple hopping experience in the state of Karnataka we found ourselves in the coastal district of 'Tulu Land'. Our first stop in Tulu Land was Mudbidri, a charming town with a well-known Jain temple called Thousand Pillars Temple. Jainism is a pre-Buddhist form of Hinduism, though it rather resembles an extreme form of the former. Being a dharmic religion, they refuse to be impure by taking life, so they consume no meat or eggs. Jain nuns wear face masks and sweep the way before they walk so they don't inadvertently kill any precious bug life: one never knows, a fruit fly could be your mother's reincarnation. One in a seemingly endless plethora of temples in India, Thousand Pillars Temple is built three stories high, though non-Jains may only access the first level. As the name suggests there is an abundance of pillars at the Thousand Pillars Temple each uniquely carved. Each pillar tells a story and is intricately carved with gods, goddesses, demons, and animals. A local man of the temple led us around and told us many tales about the meaning of each pillar and its carvings. We spent hours wandering around this peaceful haven and since no photos were allowed inside, we just had to appreciate the temple and put away our camera.
The next day we caught a bus to Kodyadka to visit the Hosanadu Kodyadka Temple of Goddess Annapoorneshwari, the incarnation of Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Abundance. Despite the crowded bus ride the temple was worth the trip. A giant Hanuman (the monkey god renowned for his great strength) statue graced the front of Hosanadu Kodyadka Temple and much to our surprise we were greeted by a dancing elephant! As we approached our second temple in India we found this elephant all by itself, dancing up a storm. There were no trainers to be found, it appeared to be dancing purely for the love of it! Leaving the elephant behind we went and ate on the floor with hundreds of other pilgrims. This practice is something done in many of the temples in India and it is quite a unique experience. We joined people of all socio-economic statuses together on the floor and accepted the offerings from the temple.
Heading further north along our tour of the temples in India, we visited the Sri Krishna Temple in Udupi. Krishna is one of India's most famous gods, known for his mischievous tricks and loving of milkmaids. To call this place a temple feels like an understatement, in fact it should be called a Krishna complex. Inside the massive Udupi Krishna Temple there is every sort of depiction of Krishna imaginable, from carvings to paintings and even mobile temples that are paraded down the streets during festivals. The main attraction was a tiny, ancient, black stone carving of the god himself. I have to say that I was not as impressed by this as by many of the other carvings, but I must've been alone in this feeling because as other pilgrims approached the tiny statue, they dropped to the ground and furiously prostrated. Such devotion!
The temples in India are sometimes overshadowed on a global scale, but as we moved inland to the city of Hampi we gladly ventured into the last grand Hindu Kingdom. Hampi is a forgotten empire, deserted some five hundred years ago. It feels like a very holy place and no matter where you go, you'll find temples galore. We spent a day wandering around the Royal Center, a deserted site with ruins of temples, palaces, sleeping quarters and other remnants of a bygone empire. Just outside of Hampi, on the north side of the river, there's the Monkey Temple. To reach it one must climb quite literally 1,000 stairs. It is worth the effort though. The view of the rice paddies, temples, boulders and hills from up there is incredible. The temple itself is rather unremarkable, but between the view and the chance to sit and observe what must be hundreds of monkeys, it is a sight to behold. Our time here felt like it was straight out of an adventure movie. When we found a cobra in our bathroom, we truly felt like Indiana Jones!
Our next stop along our India temple trail was a visit to a yoga ashram in Maharashtra, the next state up from Karnataka. Life in the ashram kept us fairly busy, but we did manage to make it out one day to the nearby village of Trimbak. Trimbak has a number of temples, the one we made it to was the Ganga Devi Temple. As we entered a man approached us, stamped a symbol on our foreheads with wet sandalwood powder and with this blessing, sent us into the temple. There they had bathing ghats where boys and men in little more than underpants splashed around to cleanse away their sins. Throughout the Ganga Devi Temple were various statues of Ganesh, patron saint of writers, scholars and thieves and my personal favorite. Hindus adorn their idols with flowers, incense and kumkum powder and the depictions around this temple were no exception.
From the goddess worshiping south we trained it north to the much more god centered state of Rajasthan. In Jodhpur we climbed up stairs, ladders and rocks to get to the Baba Ramdev Temple. Baba Ramdev Temple is an incredibly unlikely temple set high upon a large piece of sandstone that balances precariously on another piece of sandstone. The Brahmins who look after the temple informed us that sometimes they fit as many as three hundred people up there! Thankfully during our visit it was just the four of us. The view down onto Jodhpur was compensation enough for the scary climb up to reach the temple. Stretched out before us were houses painted with indigo, bustling streets and Mehrangarh Fort, one of Rajasthan's most impressive forts.
Our temples of India tour continued, little did we know that we'd saved the most spectacular temple for last. We traveled to Amritsar Punjab, to view the Sikh Golden Temple. The massive complex surrounding the temple made of 750 kilograms of gold is so peaceful that during our three-day stay in Amritsar we visited the temple four times. The complex, including the massive Golden Temple in the center, is breathtaking and one could spend hours watching it change colors in the different lights of the day. In addition to the beautiful and peaceful temple atmosphere, the temple feeds pilgrims 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Pilgrims and local Sikhs alike serve and cook food, wash dishes and clean up the floor. Sikhs tend to be rather wealthy, but here that doesn't place them above performing kitchen duties!
The western world can leave you feeling sapped of energy and cynical about life. Visiting temples in India can inspire you, show you that inclusive faith exists and people really can be wonderful to each other. Perhaps you won't find your guru, but surely you will invigorate your spirit!
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