Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bazaar within an Indian temple

You read this board “Arulmigu Sri Arunachaleshwarar Temple – Devasthana Abisheka Special Panchamirtham Naivetya Prasadam available here”. Devotees gather around the shop inside the Arunachaleswara temple in Tiruvannamalai to buy pre-packed prasadam. Inside the temple at Tiruvannamalai as also at the Meenakshi temple in Madurai or in other temples in South India, there is a Bazaar that lives in different pockets within the stone walls of the temple. This sometimes includes a shop that sells prasadam; a shop that sells little baskets with flowers and coconut; a shop that sells bead necklaces or malas and sometimes a shop offering religious books for sale.

At the Meenakshi temple in Madurai, there is a flower bazaar within the temple itself

Often devotees buy the prasadam and sit with their families just outside the shop on the old stone floor to eat the prasadam before they move on. Some buy prasadam to take back home for sharing with extended family and neighbours. You can buy individual packets of laddus and individual packets of the three other items on sale. You can also buy the Nivethiya Prasadam set for Rs.100 that comes packed in a saffron cloth bag. Every once in a while, there is a coolie or helper who takes empty bamboo baskets from the prasadam shop to bring back filled baskets of bottles of Panchamrutham which are put for sale at the shop.

The Prasadam shop at the Meenakshi temple in Madurai

At another corner of the temple in Tiruvannamalai, you can also buy little oil lamps that you offer to the God. Right next to where these are sold, few women sit on the floor preparing the oil lamps for use – pouring the oil or ghee (home-made butter) into one-inch diameter clay crucibles and then putting into them cotton wicks, laying each of these now ready-to-use lamps onto large aluminium trays that are similar to the ones used for pouring indian sweets for sale. These trays are stacked one on top of another and sent to the counter nearby that sells the lamps to the devotees; there is a table nearby where the oils are lit. They are lit, they burn, they die out and are taken away by temple staff.

A third shop, which is closer to the first mantapam with carved temple pillar and near the elephant whom devotees feed bananas, is the shop that sells flowers and camphor and bead necklaces. These shops do not build a roof for themselves, only small side walls to create a sense of enclosure and a sense of “shop”. There is a stone roof up above, almost 14 feet high resting on the carved stone pillars between which the shop dwells. The main attraction here is the elephant who has a continuous stream of worshippers. It is a belief that feeding the elephant and seeking his blessings is a way to propitiate Lord Ganesha, the elephant God. In the gopuram itself, a shop that sells framed pictures of gods and goddesses – a board just above the main door in the gopuram that says ‘Sri Balaji Coconut Traders, no.108, Ayyenkulam street, Tiruvannamalai’

The steps to the Thousand Pillar Mantapam has an open-to-sky shop that has come up only this morning – a shop guarded on either side by two carved stone elephants. This is a part of the temple bazaar that sells books for the religious visitor and the sight-seeing visitor. There is yet another bookseller at the festival bazaar. He has books and prints of deities hung by plastic clips onto the coconut coir rope that ties itself to bamboo that supports the woven coconut leaf shelter or pandal. This is the bazaar within the temple that is typical of a festival day at the temple.

There is the official and more permanent devasthanam bookshop that highlights its most important two books by a large signboard that describes the books – ‘The Light of Arunachaleswarar’ – about how the small shrine by the side of the holy mountain grew into the large temple it is today and the ‘Arunagiri Valam’ – about the path around the holy hill of Arunachala and why saints have lived here and about the shrines that one will come across during the giripradakshina.

This blogpost has a description of the temple at Tiruvannamalai and photographs of the temple at Madurai, only because I had more time in Tiruvannamalai but was not carrying a camera on the trip!

As you walk a bazaar for the first time, memories of an experience of a bazaar elsewhere keep coming back. There is always so much that is not so different and yet what you go through is an experience you have not had before. Its like this gust of wind that you feel on your face, the same wind but never the same feeling.

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