Colour, chaos `n' aroma

UNIQUE FRAGRANCE A flower vendor in front of the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple PHOTO: K. GANESAN

UNIQUE FRAGRANCE A flower vendor in front of the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple PHOTO: K. GANESAN  

Enchanting Madurai from the eyes of an outsider

To give the first impressions on Madurai seems to be a mammoth task. Bombarded by a sensory overload, so much of what one sees in the temple city, it cannot be more different to the relative cool and comfort of many a small rural village.

"Madame, madame..." a small child persistently tries to coax for a few rupees. The sun beats down and the dark stone floor burns the soles of tender feet. The temple is dark and inviting.

Ladies dressed in vibrant purple, pink, green and every other colour under the sun, adorned with beautiful gold jewellery and flowers hanging from their hair. A jingle jangle of ankle bells sounds their motion. The smell of butter and jasmine and incense is intoxicating and masks the aroma of hundreds of people contained within this one sacred area.

Everywhere one turns; beautifully painted ceilings and walls tell a story. The grand golden lotus at the heart and the hall of 1000 pillars are amongst the highlights of a visit to the Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple.

Away from the serenity of the temple, the streets of Madurai are buzzing with energy and are profoundly noisy. An initial feeling is that of chaos.

Auto rickshaws, mopeds, ox-drawn carts, cyclists, cars and people all vie for space on the bumpy dusty and crowded roads. Beeping horns warn not of hazardous driving but of expected collisions. Yet, evidence of this escapes witness.

Street vendors advertise their produce through a code of whistles and calls. Each appears to be a specialist in one item.

Be it brightly coloured plastic bowls and jugs, bananas, coconuts, onions or fabrics, all are available in vast quantities. Wherever one turns, there is every chance of getting spoilt for choice.

Foraging for food along the medians, on roadsides or creeks, a very special animal catches the eye, surely one who deserves a little more respect.

The cows of Madurai appear to wander aimlessly, grazing through garbage and competing with goats, chickens and pigs for a mere scrap of something more nutritious than a plastic carrier bag.

Human fodder smells a lot more appetising and it must be said that the city has the promise to be a vegetarian's paradise.

From first thing in the morning until weary eyes close at night, homes and hawker stalls alike produce dishes, each with their own unique blend of spices.

Nowhere in Madurai can one escape from the cloud of cooking smells. It lingers in hair, on clothes and, after some particularly hot chillies, on the tongue!

Exceptionally turned out school children, always colour coordinated and girls with pretty bows of ribbon in their hair march to and from schools each morning and afternoon. It occurs in a regimental fashion and impresses profoundly.

One thing that stands out the most is the distinct lack of rain and thus an almost certain water shortage evident in the dry, meandering river that separates the north and south of the city.

Yet a certain harmony reigns in Madurai. It is privileged to have the stunning temples, traditional culture and oozes with energy, which will appeal to many outsiders.

Madurai is a heightened version of everything one perceives it to be.


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