Marvellous temples and more

An aesthetic approach Temples are more than just man-made monuments, says Sudha G Tilak   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Did you know that the Sanjeevani that Hanuman had to find to save Lakshmana was not a single plant but four? Have you heard of the temples where the prasad is royal paan or a set of books or a tonic? The answers to these and many more such nuggets are found in Sudha G Tilak’s Temple Tales: Secrets and Stories from India’s Sacred Places (Hachette). The stories are short and told in a pithy and no-fuss manner. They cover legends, food, architecture and sculpture, fine arts because “I hold the wealth of extraordinary cultural traditions more valuable than the rituals of religion that are reductively associated with these marvellous temples,” says Sudha. In this interview, she talks about what went into writing the book.

How did you get the idea for this book?

The Indian book business is capitalising on our mythology and retelling of epics and regional folklore. Indian temples, which are architectural and cultural marvels in their own right, have been reduced to mass pilgrim spots or political grounds for contentious historical issues in lay life.

The germ of this book sprouted over the idea that, since we adults have made temples into places of friction, the younger generation should understand what these beautiful monuments gave us originally before they weigh in on what the adults have made of them today. The best of our music and dance, paintings and handicrafts, cuisine and cultural traditions, plastic arts like sculpture and architecture, habitats and ecosystems have all strong continuing connections with temples. A variety of legends, folklores and themes link these aspects to the temples that offer fun and factoids for children and adults alike.

The Bateshwar group of temples comprise almost 200 structures made of sandstone

The Bateshwar group of temples comprise almost 200 structures made of sandstone   | Photo Credit: VV Krishnan

Have you visited all the temples featured?

Not all, but many of the main ones. When I look back, I should thank my mother who initiated a fascinating way of bringing a temple’s heritage back home. She replicated foods we sampled as prasadam in temples; made an effort to paint the deities; design jewellery that she observed on a sculpture; discuss stories of love, hate, magic and madness that these temples inspired; and talk about how a song or a dance was birthed in a certain temple. It seems that she has shown me that the most organic way to engage with temples is through aesthetics and as an aspiration to a life of beauty and truth.

How did you select which temples to feature?

Since the book was to engage with the young reader, I chose ones that had stories of friendships, schooling, magic and secrecy, funny ones and family relationships that are easily identifiable. The multiplicity of narratives and folk versions of many of these legends across regions vary so I picked and chose a varied palette. I also consciously chose stories that speak about inclusiveness, humaneness and quirkiness to drive the point that a temple is not necessarily a restrictive man-made monument but also a sacred spot in nature; a blessed food is both vegetable and meat; and temple deities are sculpted, rock art, a glacier in a mountain or simply a copse of trees.

Which are your favourite temples?

I suppose I am partial to the temples I visited in my childhood as they are indelible with memories of family too. The Thanjavur Big Temple for its awesomeness; the Rameshwaram, Kanyakumari and Tiruchendur temples for my weakness for the sea; any Vaishnavite temple for its prasadam; Kerala’s temples for their pristine aesthetics, Varanasi to muse about the inescapable human tryst with death; Mathura for its folksy mayhem; Kolkata’s temples for the art that spills over to the streets and so on. Of all I’d say the temples of Kanchipuram are a favourite.

In the section on the Green Temple, almost every tale refers to protection of Nature. Does that tradition still hold?

There are concerns among environmentalists about vanishing sacred forests and the drop in their numbers due to the greed of modern development including city building and for forest materials. However, the stories are a reminder how these are worth protecting as sacred.

The Baluchari saris depict scenes from mythology

The Baluchari saris depict scenes from mythology   | Photo Credit: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR

You have a section used on crafts associated with temples. Will this association help these traditional crafts and art forms survive?

Given the pace of population leaving villages and moving to cities for livelihood and the race among the youth to chase the big dream leaving behind hereditary skills, the lives of many crafts is endangered. Some will survive; some may not in the years to come. Community initiatives should be a stronger movement to protect and showcase these crafts. Temple authorities can make efforts to showcase these in the vicinity of the temples.

Is there a possibility of a second volume?

Thanks for the encouraging suggestion. Hope my editor is reading this!

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Printable version | Oct 18, 2021 9:52:22 AM |

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