In God’s Country

The wife and I recently went on a whirlwind (nope, that doesn’t explain the squally weather there) trip to Kerala. There was a time when I used to go often to “God’s Own Country” but it’s been a while since that happened last. It definitely has been a couple of decades since I last caught sight of Thrissur, my mother’s hometown. And given the very wet reception that we received, it was only to be presumed the town was none too pleased to see me back. If we were not doused in rain, we were drenched in sweat. Like I said, wet, wet, wet.

I’m not much of a temple visitor but given the proximity to Guruvayur which houses one of the most important Hindu Vaishnavite temples in the country and since we don’t visit this part of the country very often, we thought we’d say hello. The temples in Kerala have some fun rules of entry. One of them is a dress code. Women in saris (these days they allow for the northern ‘salwar kameez’) and men in dhotis or veshtis (no lungis please) and bare upper bodies. Quite an eyeful for the women, you think? Nah. The quite-a-noseful puts paid to any such impure, lascivious thought. After standing in line for one and a half hours, we edged closer to the inner sanctum. Actually not much hard work – the throng carries you along. I would’ve put my hands up and let the aforementioned quite-a-noseful blast the hordes down if only I wasn’t hemmed in hands down. A clever gent ahead of me had drawn from his apparently vast reserve of experience to hold his arms well above his head supposedly in supplication to the lord. Supposedly. Hah, I knew what that was all about. Like I said, clever man. After snaking around more corners than the wonderful chaps in our corporate houses cut, we had to climb up a slippery stair installation and slither down the same before we got a nano-second view of the lord. Or so we happily thought. See faith is all about belief. The good folk in the managing committee of the temple would have us believe that the path to a holy peek is evidently a long one and sees its share of twists and turns, ups and downs. Seriously though, we had not a moment of a sense of piety, a realization of spirituality in the whole experience. But holy cow! we came away with an understanding of the horror that cattle encounter when they’re herded into the narrow confines of rickety transport trucks. The temple management here has much to learn from the Tirupati temple.

In sharp contrast to this rush-job in painful slow motion was our visit to Thrissur’s Vadakkunnathan temple. Even at the peak of my atheistic days, this was a temple I used to love visiting for the sense of peace and tranquility that I found in abundance there. Thankfully that hasn’t changed. Housed in a beautiful and huge complex, this dedication to Shiva is a wonderful example of a style of architecture unique to Kerala. Legend has it that this was the first of the temples constructed by Parasurama in expiation of the greatest bloodbath let loose by one man in all mythology. Here I found a calm and a sanctity that should be the realm of a place of worship but which rarely is.

Everywhere we went in “God’s own country”, we found the hand of God. Here too came once the man who briefly wielded that very same hand.

Look, look no hands this time
Look, look no hands this time

Every village had posters put up by fans of national football teams. The dominant ones were Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Spain (just about). And clearly the English team that ‘God’ infamously struck down in 1986 finds sympathy and quite a few fans. If this truly is God’s country, then his game surely must be football. Yeah, it fits – he must be getting his kicks from it.

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