Slow start of the day
As I wake up with diarrhea, I reduce my breakfast to toast and tea. Only at half-past three in the afternoon, I head towards the Meenakshi temple, which will not open again until four o’clock. When I arrive at the temple, a tailor approaches. He says he already spotted me yesterday when he saw me walk into one of the many uncertified workshops. He is a member of CITU, an official tailor trade union; their shops are grouped in the market building at the western entrance of the temple. If I want, I can pass by without any purchase obligation. Right, that is what they all say.
Agreeing on a rickshaw tour
I wander around at the – still closed – Meenakshi temple. A rickshaw driver asks if I am not interested in a small one-hour tour for a reasonable price of 40 rupees. When he learns that I am from Belgium, he brings out a minuscule booklet with comments from other tourists – including many Belgians – who did this tour with him. He tells me that he has been guiding tourists around for 12 years. Because I still have time left, I agree to do the tour.
Many local markets
We drive past a Ganesh temple, a remarkable one with a faceless Ganesh. Then we stop at the Nayak palace where I can enter without any entrance fee. Afterward, we visit several typical markets; the banana market, the vegetable market, a separate onion market, and finally, the covered flower market.
And ending at a rooftop again
Before we return to the Meenakshi temple, I first have to take some pictures on another rooftop, with a different perspective than yesterday. Naturally, the roof houses a handicraft store beneath again. However, there is no chance of persuading me anymore; after the photos, I quickly walk outside. During the checkout, my driver tries to ping more rupees. I stick to the 50 rupees I intended to give him. He does not push further. In retrospect, this is the nicest man I will meet today.
The Meenakshi temple houses many statues of Shiva and Parvati
Then it is time to visit the temple. I leave my shoes in the repository at the entrance. I do not notice a place to obtain a camera permit, so I enter without one. In the end, I do not take many photos inside. The Meenakshi temple in Madurai contains several small temples, where you are not allowed to take any pictures of the gods after all. In the open spaces and outside on the courtyard, it is possible, but often there is hardly enough light. The temple complex is grand and impressive, with fantastic sculptures, mainly of Shiva (in its many forms) and Meenakshi (his consort, an appearance of Parvati).
Good luck when an elephant touches your forehead
The mother temple and the Lingam temple (a male pole in a female flat stone – typically associated with Shiva) are not accessible to non-Hindus. There is, however, plenty to see. For instance, two elephants. If you pay a small amount of money, the elephant touches your forehead with his or her trunk, which should bring good luck to you. I stroll around a bit when a woman comes over to talk to me. She is also affiliated with the CITU tailors’ union. I tell her she is the third one telling me the same sales story three.
Another encounter at the tailor shop
After the temple visit, I go to her tailor shop where the same scenario as yesterday unfolds, choosing a model, then the fabric, and the measurement. The price for a pair of pants is exactly the same as yesterday. Fair prices, forget about that. So I grab my backpack and move on. Back at the Meenakshi temple, while I am drinking a refreshment, the first tailor shows up again. According to him, once more, I ended up with the wrong people. She has also shown me that CITU card, I tell him. That surprises the man. He tries to lure me to his shop, but I say I have had enough of it, identification cards or not.
Persisting bamboo flute sellers
I am still cooling off with a coke and a cigarette in my hand when a little boy comes to try and sell a bamboo flute. He will pursue me as long as I am in the vicinity of the temple. In the beginning, I can still laugh with the whole situation; at one point in time, there are even four of those little pesterers with whistles in front of me, except when a cop passes by, then they take some distance. But I only get rid of the first one when I walk back into the temple at half-past six.
A lively daily ritual at the Meenakshi temple
In the evening, all kinds of lighting are lit in the Meenakshi temple and live music is performed. The place becomes bustling, exhaling a unique atmosphere. The Hindus themselves mainly come by to experience the final ritual of the day. At nine o’clock, the statues of Shiva and Meenakshi are carried to their sleeping place to ensure that marital duties will be fulfilled. After all, Shiva had the reputation of showing quite some interest in other women.
A well-known restaurant without customers
I do not stay until this ritual has come to its completion, as I doubt I would get to see much of the spectacle as a non-Hindu. On the way back to the hotel, I pass a popular restaurant and meeting place for tourists, so I enter to have dinner over there. Unfortunately, there are no other tourists (there were a few in the temple though), but the meal is good.