Monday, February 4, 2008

Of Temples and Celebrations

There are two temples in my neighbourhood. Both are well-established and one has a collection large enough to be taken over by the HR&CE Board. The Amman temple has been there since I began living here,longer than 20 years. The other Ganesh temple has a curious history. There is an old building near a slum.People take a path through its grounds to get to the road. Infact, when the owners wanted to sell the building, locals claimed an easementary right and went to court.The path is still there but info on the case has been swallowed up by time. Twenty years ago, there used to be a lot of old, broken black stone idols on this path. Local children used to defecate closeby, the rain washed them and the sun dried them. As time went by, I noticed the statues disappearing one by one.The antique business was still in its infancy but we reckoned they were probably being disposed off to service the local supply of evening drinks. The temple business was one of the most lucrative, then. Witness our Amman temple which began as a small idol covered by a rude stone arch, under a tree. Flats came up and people began to take an interest as other temples were too far off. We began to celebrate all the festivals. Loudspeakers were hired for the annual fire walking. The local Don took an interest in the collections.A formal shrine was built.Subscriptions were collected and in a ceremony, on the final day, big contributors and the local committee was honoured.

But back to the saga of our Ganesha. He was the last of the idols to leave the path, and to our surprise, one day out walking, we discovered him on the sidewalk, freshly washed, adorned with a white dhoti and a tikka. A metal hundi and the local rickshaw drivers were in business. Soon, as this was the main road and Ganesha was the God of prosperity, more universally acknowledged and not a cult goddess like Amman, the local big business began to patronise him.A brahmin priest was brought in to conduct the services.He got a gramd mandap as shelter, flower vendors took up residence, cars began to come to him for their blessings before their first ride and he had become famous. Ganesh Chaturthi saw performers from the film world and local artists perform! The rickshaw pullers were ousted from the commitee and the HRCE tok over.

What about Amman? The locals were smart.They brought in locals from the big houses on to the Trust. Amman was decked in jewellery and acquired silver weapons and face[ Ganesha had by now been covered in silver with sparkly gems on his forehead]. Leading singers were now invited to her festival and she was taken round in a well decorated chariot. A brahmin priest was brought in.She had arrived!

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