We bounced along a levee and found quiet lanes to reach the large city of Madurai, one of the oldest cities in South Asia (2,500). It’s river, the Vaigai is a smelly struggling stream in a wide, littered river bed waiting for the Monsoon rains (the current drought is the worst since 1901 ‘India Times’ so rice prices are at a record high – r56/kg). Our hotel on Lake View Road overlooks a field!
I read that Madurai was described as “the Athens of the East” as far back as 302 BC. It was the capital city of the stable Pandyan dynasty for over 1,000 years. The city’s silk, pearls and spices were traded as far as Rome: a lucrative trade that enabled then to erect the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple. The 14 tall gateway towers (gopuras) are covered with multicoloured mythological figures, lovely against the bright blue sky, but the temple is surrounded by a sea of modern concrete cubes and noise and unsympathetic markets selling tourist tack. It’s difficult to date the temple, Wikipedia writes the temple was originally built in the 6th century BC but its present structure was built between 1623 and 1655. We read that some restoration work happened as recently as 1963. Undeniably, it is hugely important to devout Hindus: praying, anointing powder paints, wedding blessings… Temples devoted to a female deity are rare.
Meenakshi is an avatar of the Hindu Goddess Parvati, the goddess of fertility, love and devotion. The museum in the heart of the old temple is worthwhile, full of Hindu sculptures (there are 33,000 in the temple). My favourite represent Sri Boodevi, but what is it with men, even Pandya females are portrayed as Barbie dolls.
Politics dominate the newspapers here. The woman voted by her peers to lead their party is to be chief minister of Tamil Nadu. But V K Sasikala must wait for the Supreme Court verdict next week in the disproportionate assets case against her before she can sworn in. Her caretaker minister O Panneerselvam is popular with the people and is gaining support her party. Articles write of accusations, intrigue and abduction!
Can you believe this? A candidate in a minor local election is charged with the murder of his brother and his brother’s friend to gain sympathy votes!!
Suicide dominates the news, usually farmers, mostly by poison. Today we read of a couple in their 50s and 19 year old daughter, their textile business failed. Another man found his wife had killed herself and did the same…