Guys…it is not always that such days come into our life, which makes us say, WOW! I had such a day during my visit to God’s Own Country, Kerala.
I had gone to Kerala during the Diwali vacations with family in 2014…first stop Trivandrum…and as you might know, the city of Trivandrum is famous for the Shree Padmanabha Swamy temple…a very beautiful and majestic temple dedicated to the Lord Vishnu. And it goes without saying that we had to visit the temple . So we started for the temple from the hotel in an auto. After crossing many lanes and bylanes we reached the temple at @4.30 pm. Actually the auto dropped us at some distance away from the temple since autos or other vehicles are not allowed near the temple.
There is a huge archway through which you enter and as you near the temple you see the water tank near it. Water tanks near the temple are a hallmark of all small and big temples in Kerala. This water tank was very well maintained, with ducks swimming in it.
Anyway there were many other devotees like us who had come to take Darshan. My wife, myself and our daughter were proceeding towards the temple, like you approach any other temple in amchi Mumbai, when suddenly we heard shouts of “MUNDU…MUNDU…”and a portly old gentleman in the typical dhoti worn by the denizens of Kerala came running towards us gesticulating wildly. A whole lot of syllables, mono syllables , syntax and maybe syntax errors shot off from his mouth, which I was not in a position to understand. Then he pointed towards his own lower garment, which was a dhoti, and pointed towards a shop on the road side. Finally through all these gestures I was able to make out that I too had to wear a dhoti, also known as a Mundu before entering the divine temple. And my wife and daughter too, had to wear the Mundum Neriyathum which are a combination of the lower and upper garments, unique to Kerala.
As we approached the shop we saw a crowd of people who were there to get these garments. The shop was selling these and the first thought that came to mind is, what to do with them after the visit is over. Anyways I pushed that thought to the back of my mind and stood in line. Finally on reaching the counter I disbursed the payment and now became the proud owner of a Mundu.
Now the next question presented itself, which was, where do I change into it, and that too, modestly. While women had the option to wear the garments over their own clothes, the same option was not available to the men. I saw some men entering the same shop from a side door and I too joined the crowd. Since I have never worn this particular garment before, I was in a fix on how to go about it. So I started observing a few other men who were at it in all earnestness. Observing them I could make out there were many like me who were doing it the first time. Seeing them, I had a go at it. The first time I tried to wrap it around myself, as I passed the end from one hand to the other, it came off from the other side. I tried out a lot of permutations and combinations but without any luck. Then one gentleman pointed out that I cannot continue wearing my jeans below the mundu. That presented another challenge…now not only I had to wear the mundu properly, but also remove the jeans and ensure that the mundu did not come off while walking or something. I also had to ensure that it is not worn so tight, that I will be able to walk in only baby steps…too many challenges, to go in the presence of the Almighty.
Finally I applied my jugaadu dimaag…first I tied one end of the mundu to a clutch of mundu cloth securely (mundu is a long piece of cream coloured cloth)…after checking the security of this arrangement by pulling on it, I removed my jeans gently…so far so good…once the mundu was secure on my waist, I then proceeded to wrap the remaining cloth round and round around my body…and finally the the end of the mundu cloth was tied again to the first knot…I WAS READY TO FACE THE LORD…triumphantly I came out of the shop to see my wife and daughter bursting into uncontrollable giggles…But I was walking like a Kerala king going to meet the Lord…when suddenly the same portly gentleman again came running towards me shouting “SHIRT…SHIRT…” . I realized that all other men in the vicinity were shirtless.. And this was expected of me too. Gingerly I removed my shirt too and handed it over to the same shop for which I was given a token coin…the same system which is used in Malls everywhere…
Finally the three of us proceeded to meet the divine Lord himself…a thought struck me that you are going to the Lord ‘s abode leaving behind all your material belongings …you go there as a new person…
Once inside, it was a totally different atmosphere due to the unique aartis in Malayali language accompanied by an assortment of drums and trumpets. As we waited in a line to go into the presence of the Lord, I took a look at the temple architecture which was very beautiful. One thing I noticed, is the extensive use of wood in Kerala temples, which one does not get to see in Maharashtra. Another feature which I noticed, was the wide walking area surrounding the main temple area. I thought it must be for the people to do the Parikrama. I was partly right and partly wrong. But first things first.
To the sound of cymbals and drums, the gate to the Lord’s abode was opened. As the people started going inside to get a darshan of the Lord, the decibel level went up behind us. Once we had taken the darshan, we were ushered out to witness a grand spectacle before us!! On the wide walking path, going around the perimeter of the temple, an elephant, heavily bedecked with beautiful golden ornaments was walking across, with some pujaris sitting on a howdah, placed on the elephants back with many other people following the elephant, some of them walking briskly and some, almost running. We too joined the crowd for a couple of rounds, thoroughly enjoying ourselves and very happy to be part of this unique experience.
Then we sat inside a cool part of the temple, meditating before the great Lord, thanking him for this opportunity of a lifetime. This was certainly a great day in our lives, that it will always be remembered as a gift from the Almighty.