Ok, I think I am going to start trying to write shorter blog posts so I can do them more often. I just had to write about this because I had the best experience last night. We were told that there was some sort of celebration that was going to happen in Ayikudy (the town right outside of ASSA), so we decided to just walk down there to check things out. During celebrations there are colourful lights strung everywhere and there are massive loud speakers every half km or so down the road entering into the town. So we heard the music as we entered town, and walked by many people who were dressed in fancier clothing. Once we got to the temple area, there were more people than we had previously seen, but not too many. We were unsure if we could go into the temple and didn’t really know the proper etiquette, so I’m sure we looked very confused as we cautiously walk towards the temple, trying to watch what other people were doing. As we got closer, no one seemed to stop us, so we kept going. You have to take your shoes off before you enter, so we took off our shoes and continued slowly through the entrance. At this point we felt very out of place and were unsure of what to do. I decided that we should just stand there for a minute or two and see what happens. Many people from ASSA know us, and we clearly looked confused, so I was really hoping someone would offer to show us what to do – someone who spoke English.
Sure enough, after standing there for barely a minute, a lovely young woman and her family said hello and reintroduced herself as a staff member we had met the other week. She asked if we would like to go inside the temple and said to come with her. Our plan worked!! We still cautiously followed her, and just did as she did. The inside of the temple was like a courtyard, with a large building in the middle that seemed to be the “heart” of the temple, and then all around were smaller buildings each with some sort of statue inside (Please, someone who knows more about Hinduism feel free to correct my description of everything, although the woman who was showing us around spoke some English, it was minimal so we didn’t get a description of anything that was going on, and I am not at all familiar with Hinduism). So we went along the path, as others stopped to do a small ritual at some or all of the smaller statues. As we came back towards the entrance, there were many woman sitting on the ground gathered around the central area where it appeared the ceremony was going to take place. They were packed in pretty tight, and then others were standing in behind. There were not too many people here yet, and the woman helping us (Sheree) asked if we would like to stay, and verified what time we have to be back at ASSA. This is one thing I love about everyone at ASSA, we are like precious cargo, everyone is always so concerned if we have eaten, where we are going, how we will get back, if we are enjoying ourselves, if we feel safe, etc. So we said we could stay for a while. After standing there for a few minutes it was clear that the ceremony would be starting soon. People were pushing themselves through the entrance as it started to fill up to the point where people were falling over each other. Even if we wanted to leave at this point, we wouldn’t have been able to.
I did not understand most of what was going on with the ceremony, but it was so amazing to observe. They went through ritual after ritual as a young man was becoming “married to the temple” (like a monk – again, sorry I don’t know all the proper terms). There was music playing, at at times flower petals being thrown in the air. We were hesitant to take any pictures because of the environment, but eventually we saw a number of people recording the session, so we asked Sheree if it was appropriate to take a picture and she said we could. Thank goodness, because now I have as much of it documented as I could because it was something that just cannot be fully described in words. As the time got closer to when we had to be back at ASSA, Sheree kindly offered to walk us out. This was task in itself, as the place was now jam packed with people, as we tried to make our way out there was quite a few hand gestures and loud talking/yelling, but as we made our way through the crowd most people were so nice, and would offer their hand to help us through a tight space. Once we were out of the temple I was amazed at the crowd that had gathered. There was a camera man in the temple and it turns out he was filming so the ceremony could be broadcasted to the masses of people who were outside. There were hundreds of people sitting in chairs that now filled the entrance way to the temple. I think we got a mixture of curious looks and waves, along with a few scowls as if they were wondering how a couple foreigners made it inside. I think we just completely lucked out with the timing and entered unknowingly before the crowd arrived.
Sheree even ended up walking us to the rickshaw drivers and made sure they negotiated an appropriate price for our short ride back to ASSA. She was so amazingly kind to have taken us under her wing and given us such a unique experience. I don’t think I will see that again in my time here and I feel very lucky to have stumbled upon it. To top things off, once I was back on campus I spent some time on one of my favourite places here – the rooftop of our guesthouse. The breeze is so amazing in the evening and the moon right now is a little crescent in the shape of a smiley face 🙂