Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oddest question at Kanchipuram: "What is your gothram, sir?"

The driver warned me that I would not be able to go inside the Varadaraja Perumal Temple because it would be closed during lunch time, from noon until four.

I was awfully tempted to ask him whether god has lunch and takes a siesta as well; but, am glad I resisted that urge to wisecrack that way in a town of a thousand temples :)

A thousand-year old structure, with a great deal of history and art.  A century or two older than the the Leaning Tower of Pisa, for instance, which is one heck of a tourist attraction.  (Yes, been there, done that!)  The tower at this temple hasn't leaned in any way over all these years.

To the inquisitive tourist that I am, there is a lot to see in Kanchipuram and I had to pick and choose.

There was no skipping this temple, though.

Even the doorway is massive and impressive.  The doors, with solid wood and iron reinforcements has a stone doorstop, which itself deserves a photograph.

I was almost through the doorway when a thirty-something looking brahmin came rushing.

He pointed to my camera, and then pointed up to the sign that said there was a five rupee fee to use the camera within the temple grounds.

"Where do I pay for the ticket?" I asked him.

The brahmin, clad in a traditional dhoti and bare-chested with the namam on his forehead, said he would get the ticket for me.

"No problems.  Just show me where the office is" I cautiously replied.  I know I have become one paranoid American tourist.  But, that is better than to cry later!

"I can help you.  I can even open those closed gates and you can take photos there" the brahmin said.

"No, thanks.  I will get the camera ticket and look around on my own."

"Why are you so afraid?  I only want to help you."

I laughed.  "Well, things are that way these days" I said, and gave him a five rupee coin.

"You be here, and I will bring you the ticket."

Of course, there was no way I was going to trust this guy--I walked right behind him.  From behind a tree materialized a guy with a receipt book and the brahmin traded the coin for a receipt, which he handed to me.

Now, we were standing very close to each other and there was no breeze.  I smelled alcohol breath on him.  Yes, alcohol. At about 1:45 in the afternoon.  In a place religious Hindus consider to be one of the holiest of holy temples.  As Shakespeare wrote, "So are they all; all honorable men."

"What is your name, sir?"

"Sriram."

"You are from ....?"

"From Madras.  But, been in America for a very long time."

"I see. What is your gothram, sir?"

I laughed big time.  "I gave up on those things decades ago."

Meanwhile, another "guide," who was wearing a pair of pants and a shirt that was tucked in, walked up to us. He had been siting a few feet away, beside a White European-looking woman.  I wasn't sure if he was coming up to try to rescue me, or to assist the brahmin into trapping me.  Am I paranoid about people, or what!

The brahmin looked at him and said, in Tamil, "he is Sriram from Madras. He has been abroad. And seems to doubt me."

With a chuckle that "guide" replied, "maybe he will trust you if you are a real iyengar."

I walked away, but always watching out for the alcohol-smelling iyengar who wanted to know my gothram.

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