February 27, 2014
Today, in attempt to honor Lord Shiva and receive his divine blessings, thousands of Hindus will visit Naganatheshwara temple (Sanskrit meaning "the god of the snakes") – a mandir dedicated purely to his worship. Locals of Begur attest that Naganatheshwara temple is the origin from which the city of Bangalore sprouted, and that Rama himself prayed there – which if correct –would date the temple to be as ancient as 5,000 years. Now designated as a national heritage site, the Naganatheshwara temple is actively being preserved, its grounds undergoing a painstaking process of restoration.
The car kicks up a small sandstorm as pull into the area serving as the parking lot. I slip my sandals off and leave them under the front seat along with my purse, taking the time to neatly fold and tuck away the 300 rupees in various denominations I will use for monetary offerings. Walking across the sandy lot, still warm from the sun’s heat, we stop at phool walle, (flower lady) her various flowers and puja necessities arranged carefully on a blue tarp. Sanjeev and the lady discuss the price in Kannada, quickly exchanging 120 rupees for two plastic bags, each filled with a coconut, roses, jasmine garlands, and marigold flowers, agrabati (incense sticks), and small bags of vermillion and turmeric powder. Puja necessities obtained, we walk toward the crowd at the back entrance of the temple.
Sanjeev and Akhilesh leave their sandals at the gate entrance amongst countless similar pairs of black and brown chuppals. We join the crowd kept in order by a passageway made out of carved wooden poles and thick rough rope, walking single file in the line into the temple’s courtyard. I stand on my tiptoes to see that the ropes zigzag around the temple’s grounds, in and out of the various antarylas (temple chambers) like lines at an amusement park. Hundreds of people crowd in its confines – black hair and varying shades of brown everywhere. Despite that I can’t quite seem to stop reaching up to cross my arms, I ignore the uncomfortable sensations of being in the crowd. Long braids of hair brush across my arms, feeling coarse next to the soft swish of fabric across my skin. I stand feet close together to avoid being stepped on, and to also avoid committing the taboo myself.
|The Dakshin Dwaar (photo taken during the monsoons)|
|(The Dakshin Dwaar Restored - taken from Sanjeev's phone)|
|(The first Antaryla with Nandi, taken on a previous trip to the temple)|
The temperature slowly increases as we move toward the entrance of the second house of a Shivalinga – Akhilesh long since separated from us. While I wait to reach the corner, I balance on my tiptoes to see clear above the crowd and watch a small group of young girls performing Bharatanatyam in the crowded courtyard away from the lines. This time, people are let past the steel gate and into the antaryla about ten at a time before a young man acting as a bouncer blocks the crowd. Sanjeev and I manage to stay together in the squeeze through the gate, again performing the monetary offering and darshan (the viewing of the God) before quickly exiting.
|(The Temple's Main Entrance)|
Back in the main temple room, I am suddenly aware of the dampness of my clothes, my dupatta and kurti clinging tightly to my skin. I am about to make a beeline for the temple’s exit where the evening will have a cool breeze waiting, but Sanjeev apparently hasn’t felt enough punishment despite that he is sweating bullets and requests that we visit the final linga. I resist the urge to whine and instead move forward with the crowd, watching pujaris deliver small spoons sacred water known as charna amrut (“the nectar from the feet of the gods”) into the palms of devotees who then sip it. I vie for space through the room’s chamber, irritated when several women cut in front of me. Inside the room, Sanjeev searches every crevice of his empty wallet for a single rupee to serve as monetary offering at the last aarti tray, all to no avail. I move quickly through the darshan, squeeze my way through one last gate, before I am outside and trying not to visibly show the relief I feel at being out of the crowd. My patience and energy spent, I join Sanjeev at the area serving as the puja offerings, hastily lighting an incense stick in the diya fire before stabbing it in a banana to hold it upright. Sanjeev whispers his prayers, while I stand in the middle of the courtyard watching women and girls on the stage recite a mantra in unison, the girls’ voices ear splittingly sharp through the speakers. When he joins me, we quickly head to exit through the gap in the courtyard’s walls. We walk across the sandy lot, pebbles and rocks jabbing into my feet as I try to keep up with Sanjeev’s pace to the car. Once there, I hurriedly climb in, sprawling out against the back seat in my exhaustion. Sanjeev swifly starts the car and exits the lot, the temple disappearing into dust and darkness as we join evening traffic on Manipal road. On the way home, I hardly notice the jerking movements of road’s potholes, content in my moment of quiet in a maddening world.
Om Namah Shivaya.