FRIDAY REVIEW

Display of devotion

MARTIN FORRAT

SUN SCREENS: The deity on Garuda mount under huge umbrellas.

SUN SCREENS: The deity on Garuda mount under huge umbrellas.  

It is really interesting to see how people pray and worship their gods in others countries, especially in India, which is famous for the intensity of its faith. So, being in India for a while, I was wondering how to witness such a demonstration of devotion in this country of many gods.

MAMMOTH touch: The temple elephant blessing a child.

MAMMOTH touch: The temple elephant blessing a child.  

Even as I was waiting for some big festival to happen I found myself in the middle of Brahmotsavam at Sri Varadarajaswamy temple, Kanchipuram. Like many tourists, I had also planned to visit the temples, or rather, some of them in Kanchipuram, which is supposed to be one of the major temple towns of the South, capital of the kingdom of the great Pallavas. So, I came to the temple of Varadaraja Perumal.

I was about to leave the temple on my bike when I saw this procession in front of me. Before I could realise what was happening, an elephant came along and blessed me with its trunk.

Then followed an immense idol, borne by may be 40 or 50 people. Protected from the sun by two huge parasols oriented by two young priests, the idol, adorned with gold and diamonds, seemed to beckon me. The three priests at the idol's feet had their hands full, receiving the offerings — coconuts, silks or bananas — from the devotees, and bless them with what I supposed to be a Vishnu bell (Satari, it is called, I learnt later). Such a euphoric and effervescent atmosphere, and the sight of people prostrating on the street took me back 3,000 years, to Egypt.

IN UNISON: Pandits chanting the Vedas lead the procession.

IN UNISON: Pandits chanting the Vedas lead the procession.  

I have spent considerable time in Egypt and have always wondered how the people there would celebrate their cult. When I lived in the southern part, I was told that in the past, every year, there used to be a big festival, in which the deity was taken from the temple north of the town to the South.

Of course, all such practices came to an end when Islam became the official religion of Egypt. When I arrived in India, a few weeks ago, I visited various temples and in a way I could understand all that had been written about the ancient religion of Egypt. There are several parallels that could be drawn. For instance, the people entering the temple, giving their offerings to the priest who is the only one allowed inside the sanctum.

In a moment, I could see the link between Christ and Krishna, both described as incarnations of God and depending on the energy of Love of Vishnu. Moreover, don't we have in Christianity the famous Trimurti of Hindus? After being taught the significance of Brahmotsavam — Brahman doing penance to see the full form of Vishnu — I lighted a fire and broke a coconut on the ground.

An offering to a religion of no borders, given in a faithful spirit to the Lord. I felt at that moment that I entered a new sacred world I had never touched before, even if I would have to stay an eternal stranger to the Hindu religion and its people.

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