Wednesday, August 29, 2007

26 August 2007: Surprise Picnic

Today we left the house before 7am to go on a day-long “surprise picnic” – a surprise in that only the guy who organized it knew where we were going ahead of time. We met up at a restaurant called The Veg Town, owned by Suresh, who was also the organizer of our day. Eleven of us piled into a vehicle (8 adults and three children) and set out on our adventure, food from the restaurant (here called “hotel”) safely stored in the back. I got a little tour of Mysore on the way out of town, with different people calling my attention to things as we passed, such as the University, the Palace, Chamundi Hill, and a busy Sunday market.

Once we were on the road, Suresh revealed to us our first destination: a 1500 year old Jain temple in Kanakagiri, a village perhaps a half-hour’s drive past the famous Hindu pilgrimage temple in Nanjanagud. No one among our group except Suresh had been there before, and this is definitely well off the beaten path, even for Mysore natives. It is only about 50 km from Mysore, but with the condition of the village roads (potholes when the road is paved, otherwise dirt), it takes at least an hour and a half to drive there. We were entertained by a selection of dance songs from Bollywood movies, which I quite enjoyed. On the way we passed through what Dr. Srivalli referred to as “interior villages,” which seemed to be populated by subsistence farmers. Bicycles are parked in front of fields, and sometimes are seen to carry large loads of weeds and grasses for the cows, goats, and sheep. Crops included sugarcane, rice, okra, and other things I couldn’t identify from the car. Many times we drove over just harvested grains spread out over the road, left there for the passing cars, trucks, and scooters to crush with their wheels, to make the processing of the grains easier.

When we were perhaps 20 minutes away, we got our first glimpse of the Jain temple, sitting high on a hill. When we arrived in Kanakagiri, we first had breakfast before climbing the stone steps to the temple. Some parts of the temple are quite new, but you can spot the earliest stones, and also carvings on the gopuram from the Hoysala period, in about 1300 AD. The views of the surrounding countryside are quite beautiful. Then we followed a path of small, salmon covered temples, which led even further up the hill to a rock topped with a column. Here we rested and enjoyed the clean air and expansive views, before making our way back down the hill.

Then we headed for B.R. Hills and a Hindu temple there, located in a wildlife preserve. Evidently there are elephants and tigers living there, but we did not see any. I’m sure they keep to the non-populated parts of the sanctuary. We did however see a mongoose run across the road, and we later had to swerve sharply to avoid running over a snake. We also saw monkeys, cocorans (which I think are a type of egret), parrots, and a kingfisher, along with the standard cows, oxen, goats, sheep, and dogs. At the temple, Dr. Srivalli paid a small sum of money to have prayers said for us. The priest chanted all the names she mentiond and then said prayers from the inner sanctum of the temple, while we stood just outside, and received the smoke from the flame of the lamp, red tikka powder, and water to sip and then swipe over our heads from crown to nape. As we bowed slightly, the priest placed an 8-inch high inverted cup on our heads, moving the boys’ heads to the correct position when needed. Finally he gave each of us a handful of flowers and greens, which he has taken from the garlands adorning the statue of the goddess. Near the exit are two large sandals, each perhaps two feet long and one foot wide. Dr. Rekha tells me that the story goes that two separate people had dreams telling them to go to this temple and make sandals of a certain size. When they both arrived at the temple with the exact same specifications, it was taken as a sign, and these sandals of the god were produced. A priest held the sandals from the back and tapped the front of them on each of our heads two or three times. Given my own relationship to my feet as a dancer, I was quite tickled to be blessed by some holy sandals! The views from the temple of the surrounding forest, hills, and farmland were quite beautiful.

It was a lovely day!

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