Recently, I visited the state of Tamil Nadu for an official tour. I was stationed in Madurai for a week. I have been to Madurai earlier as well but never managed to visit the Meenakshi Temple which is a famous tourist as well as religious place in Madurai. People from all over the world come to see this amazing work of art and appreciate its timelessness and beauty. So, this time I squeezed out enough time from my meetings and managed to visit the temple on the last day of my stay in Madurai.
As it is a religious place and as is common in Hindu religious places of worship, I had to submit my shoes at the entrance. The security also kept aside my mirror and a pack of chewing gum. Then I entered the temple campus. There are two shrines in the same campus. First, there is the one dedicated to Lord Shiva, the “Mahadeva” (Supreme God). I have never been a very religious person but I am a big follower of the Lord Shiva and the constant chanting of “Om Namah Shiva” calms my nerves as nothing else in this world. The moment I crossed all the checking and security, it was like entering into a different world.
The entire temple is made of stone which has withstood thousands of years. It was built somewhere in between 1623-1655 A.D. The sculptures were so intricate and beautiful that it made me marvel at the powers of perception and depiction of the artists who created them. The colorful crowd all moved around with the purpose of offering their prayers and at one side of the door was an elephant. Not a sculpture but a live one. And it was a showman. It lifted up its trunk to greet every passer-by and then demanded money by making sounds and extending its trunk. It is unbelievable how well animals can be trained. But, somehow even with an element of modern day consumerism, the presence of the elephant added to my feeling of being transported back in time.
At the entrance to the inner temple was a ticket counter. I could go and stand in the “free” line without paying any fee but the queue was longer there or I could buy a ticket of Rs 20 or Rs 100 and become a part of the shorter queue. The amount of entrance fee is, of course, inversely proportional to the length of the queue. Finally as soon as I entered the inner temple of Lord Shiva , the “aarti” (evening worship) started. The people around me said we were lucky to be able to witness it. In the darkness the idol of Lord Shiva could hardly be seen but the rhythmic sound of the bells and the thousands of oil lamps created a magical atmosphere.
After offering my prayers there, I went to the main Meenakshi temple. The name Meenakshi means fish-eyed (meena-fish and akshi-eyes). She is an incarnation of Shiva’s wife Parvati and the principal deity of this temple. Again here, there was a long queue and special tickets. So, I purchased one and entered the inner temple. Somehow looking at the architecture, the beautiful carvings, I was not at all concerned with the queue or crowd. I tried to take it all in as much as possible. After offering my prayers and coming out of this inner temple of Goddess Meenakshi, I wandered around and chanced upon a long corridor where strangely I found myself alone.
Walking though that corridor, I could not help but wonder how many different people from different periods of time, having different versions of “reality” have walked through this same corridor. I pondered over the frailty of this temporary human life as opposed to the permanence of the work we do and leave behind. This beautiful creation has transcended time itself. I was reminded of those beautiful lines written by my favorite poet John Keats in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:
“When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woes
Than ours, a friend to man,”
It was a truly spiritual experience for me.