Friday, January 16, 2009

Day 10 - Jan 16, Thanjore

- Sleeping on the floor in our future
- Sex, drugs and rock and roll
- Museum visit
- Lunch
- Temple visit
- Traditional Dancing and Buffet

Day 10 - Jan 16, Thanjore

Comments: I notice (after Lauren gives me the heads up) that the blog is actually a two-way communication device and that some of you have added comments. Thanks! However, I’m not sure how to respond, whether to post my comments back or not. I probably will sometimes and won’t sometimes, and here you should think: head weave.

Last night, we slept on the hardest bed imaginable. Something tells me they are just getting us ready for the true Indian experience of sleeping on mats right on the floor. Same same…or, maybe last night same-same but (slightly) different. I could not sleep on my stomach (of course, I did fall asleep within my usual 30-45 seconds or so once I turned on my side).

There is one recurring theme coming through in the lectures: we are definitely getting the sexual context. Almost all the statues of goddesses are bare breasted and idealized shapes, and we’re going to get a lecture in the future on the how the changing of local custom of women going topless at home had unintended consequences (half the tour will not sleep during van rides for fear of missing the lecture). Many of the myths involve sleeping with tons of women and women in sculptures (not goddesses) getting naked and lining up for fulfillment by some god or other (usually Shiva). The statues of gods today also showed them in garb and then bare penises (MHB said right away: not circumcised…hmmmmm…she must have done some pre-work before the trip that I didn‘t know about), including one with the guy doing the full monty with a cobra wrapped around his waist. Honey, honey, I’m home, and I brought a friend…

One story we heard today in the museum had to do with a statue of Shiva where the two eyes did not match. A local man saw a lingam (giant phallus) in the woods and one of the eyes was tearing up, so he plucked his eye out and put it on the statue. He returned several days later and the other eye was tearing, so he started to pluck the other out before Shiva stopped him, he had shown enough devotion. This is called an austerity, and I am starting to think the one where the guy stands in the sun for 80 years (or some long time) is one of the better (easier) austerities. The museum also has a nice large statue of Buddha, the first we’ve seen on the trip. There are almost none in the south, many more in the north near Tibet where Buddhism is present and practiced. There is a large tower next to the museum, which we climb and get a vista out over the countryside: flat for as far as the eye can see, maybe 30 miles… very flat!

Another little known fact: when a women is holding a parakeet, that demonstrates sexual desire and readiness. Parakeets here look like parrots.

Drugs: there is a drink of the north where cannabis is one of the prime ingredients, not seen in these parts here-about. We did attempt to go to the bar in the hotel last night, it was so “masculine” that MHB (and I) felt uncomfortable and passed. Tonight we order drinks by the pool before dinner and a half hour later I have many bites on my ankles and we don’t have drinks. They finally arrive, a screwdriver and a black eye (lemon drop-ish) and we realize one of them came with ice which MHB fishes out.

Rock n Roll: Well, the band last night played the flute and a drum, no singing. We’re awaiting the Bollywood cover band, maybe in Mumbai. We ran into two Hawaiian women today in the museum, they are slowly going around India (six months already, no end date) and attend Hindi films and sit in the second class section so that they can get up and dance and sing with the rest of the section. All in Hindi, no subtitles, like it hardly matters.

For lunch, we have tikka gobi (cauliflower), tikka paneer (cheese that is more the consistency of solid tofu), raita (yogurt and mostly red onion), naan, all a la carte.

Then after a long rest, we’re off to the Big Temple, one of the largest in all of India, built by the Chora dynasty to show dominance of the local area. They import Brahmins from the north, put up way larger than life size figures guarding the temple, a huge bull (one of two or three largest in all of India, in its own pavilion (think hangar), and several huge gopuram, the carved and painted pyramids around the four sides of the temple.

On top of the main central sanctuary (which houses a giant penis, er, lingam) there is a huge crown topped with a small gold minaret like structure. The crown weighs 80 tons and supposedly they built a 4 mile ramp and pulled the thing into place with humans, elephants, horses, bulls, cows, etc. The minaret holds the elixir of the gods (eternal life results from drinking the elixir) and there is apparently one on top of every main sanctuary. Next to the main sanctuary is a small room with 108 lingams of between 1 and 2 feet tall, maybe 10 inches in diameter, each one complete with a Dancing Shiva inside (always inside a lingam).

The south facing wall of a Shiva temple always is the face of Shiva containing death. Guess this explains the phrase: things are heading south. Who knows…

There are lots of people hanging out, there are grass lawns around the Big Temple, and as we are leaving we see a priest (aka sumo wrestler) ladling out pongal from a huge vat onto banana leaves. Free for all, it is part of the end of the pongal festival. Many young teenage boys group around us at various times and want their pictures taken. People (mostly kids, though some adults) stop and shake our hands and ask where we are from. Some take our pictures. Reverse tourism…we’re the oddity!

Finally, another myth: Brahma and Vishnu are having an argument about who is greater when between them appears a huge lingam (er, penis) of light (preceding Star Wars by about a millennium), reaching into the heavens and down into the earth. Brahma flies up on a goose (one of his vehicles, like Ganesh has a rat) and Vishnu heads into the earth on a boar. Neither can find the end, but Brahma finds a flower floating along and tells Vishnu he found the top and the flower was growing there. Turns out that Shiva was the lingam (proving he was greater than the other two) and Brahma, because he lied, has almost no temples dedicated to him. This helps explain how he is the ghost of the holy trinity.

Another of our group is feeling poorly and so the couple heads back early without their shoes, which are in a box with the rest of ours at the entrance. Now that’s going native!

Dinner includes a traditional dance show before the buffet, both outside near the pool (this is when we had the drinks and fed the native insects). We don’t show up early enough to be in the front row, and since there is no stage we can’t see the band (drum and cymbals), singer, or most of the dancing. Not a problem…very redundant (though dancers’ costumes are quite nice).

Buffet very ordinary…even grilled chicken just ok.

Later, Ralph and MHB

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