Cake and pastries for breakfast
Today should be a day of visiting the temple highlights in Trichy. But I woke up this morning after a terrible night’s sleep; I had hung up my mosquito net so I couldn’t use the ventilator, which resulted in hours of terrible sweating. Not so far from where I am staying, there seems to be a bakery that has delicious cakes and pastries, so I want to have breakfast over there. However, it turns out to be a little shop, with some chairs outside but no tables, so I walk back to the hotel with my loot.
A better room with a western toilet
On the way, I stop at another hotel to inquire about a room. They only have double rooms, but because I am alone, I can rent it for 160 rupees. That is cheaper than the one I occupy right now, with a western toilet (even though the plastic seat is completely worn out). An easy decision to make, so I report to the reception that I will arrive with my luggage within one hour. Back in my first room, I bite my first (warmed up) cake, filled with vegetables. I persevere and eat it completely, even though I am almost on fire. My stomach will remain disrupted for the rest of the day. Luckily the second cake is good, nicely filled with coconut.
Finding out how to reach the Srirangam temple by bus
After my move to the other hotel, I feel nauseous and go to bed to get some more sleep. Around half-past one, I walk to the Tourist Information Center, as I want to find out how to reach the Srirangam temple by bus. The lady at the Center advises me to go late afternoon, it’s cooler then, and in the evening it is nicer with the lights on. To fill the time and satisfy my hunger, I order lunch — rice on a banana leaf with some vegetable sauces, eaten with your hands. Being a foreigner in a local Indian eatery, everybody is watching me, also the staff. But I have to admit they are very attentive; they point out what is chili is and what isn’t. They also spontaneously scoop up the sauces I eat.
On the way to visit the temple highlights in Trichy
Then finally, it is time to start my exploration of the temple highlights in Trichy. The trip by bus to the temple of Sri Ranganathaswamy elapses without obstacles. Apart from one embarrassing incident, not for myself but the Indian fellow passengers. A blind man sits next to me. Not knowing that there is a European sitting next to him, he asks me something in Tamil.
Lack of help to a blind passenger
I answer in English that I don’t understand him. Apparently, he has to go to the post office. He turns back and asks again, but no one responds. When I see that our bus stops in front of the post office, I tap his shoulders and tell him. The man stands up, and the conductor urges him to hurry. I am embarrassed by the lack of assistance from the other passengers.
Seven gates with colored statues form the temple highlights in Trichy
Arriving at the temple, a rather impressive spectacle awaits me. There are seven enormously high gates full of colored statues. Each gate stands in front of a rampart. In the outer three, you will find a huge market. The people live here too, so within the temple grounds. After the fourth wall, only Hindus can enter the actual temple. An official guide addresses me. For 10 rupees, I can go up a flight of stairs, which gives me an excellent overview of the whole temple complex. I can also take pictures because I bought a camera permit at the entrance.
Discussing a price for a guided tour at the temple in Srirangam
When I walk down again, the guide offers his services. All in all, it seems interesting to me to get some explanation about the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple. His price is much too high, though, and he doesn’t want to drop below 150 rupees. I do not deviate from my maximum amount of 100 rupees. I leave with the message that I will explore the temple highlights in Trichy on my own then. That seems to change his mind, so he agrees with this special price for me. I have already experienced this exceptional status so much during my travels, but I leave him in his delusion.
A brief overview of the Hindu gods: Brahma the creator
During the tour, I get a relatively clear overview of Hinduism related to this Sri Ranganathaswamy temple. The place is wholly dedicated to Vishnu. Hinduism worships three gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Of these, Brahma is the supreme god, the creator. He is almost always represented with three heads, but there are not many Brahma temples. His popularity has declined over the centuries.
The Srirangam temple is dedicated to Vishnu the guardian
Vishnu is the guardian. He has – as the only one of the three – ten reincarnations. The world will come to an end when he reincarnates in his tenth form. So far, this has not happened yet. In that tenth incarnation, he returns with a white horse’s head. In this Vishnu-temple at Srirangam, the ten embodiments are all presented, a rarity it seems. Budha is his ninth incarnation, but the most important are Rama and Krishna. Vishnu is often portrayed with his companion Garuda, a bird-like creature.
Shiva the destroyer but also the source of the universe
The last of the three gods, Shiva, is the destroyer. But he is also the source of the universe. He has no incarnations but many forms and is often represented with a third eye, or with an animal, or with five faces. Regularly a snake flanks Shiva, but his companion is Nandi, the bull. Shiva also stands for vitality and the erotic exploits that go with it. After all, he is known as the playboy who would have had 1600 concubines. Therefore you can often see Shiva as a dancing shepherd who seduces the female shepherds – Gopis – with his music.
Ganesh the elephant god in every household in India
And then there is the popular elephant god, Ganesh, the first son of Shiva and his wife, Parvati. The rat is his companion. Ganesh stands for learning, success, prosperity, and peace. That’s why you will find him in every household, even Indian non-Hindus.
The depicted symbols tell you which deity a temple honors
When you enter a temple, and you do not know to which god it is dedicated, you can deduce that from the symbols present. With Vishnu, you will encounter the sun wheel – wheel of fortune, Garuda, a musical sign, and a seashell. Vishnu is usually represented in blue. His followers have white vertical stripes (with a red one in between) on the forehead.
Trying to get some commission at the handicrafts center
At the end of my tour of the temple highlights in Trichy, my guide starts to tell me about beautiful canvases with images of the gods somewhere close by. Invariably he starts over and over again. At that place, somewhere near the river, I can also see people washing and bathing. He gives me a map of the handicrafts emporium, even writes down the address in Tamil so I can show it to the bus conductor tomorrow to find out where to get off. He has written his name on the back of the ticket. That way I will get a good discount on my purchase. And he will get a nice commission, that is obvious.
A pre-arranged setup while visiting the temple highlights in Trichy
The tour guides are so good at spotting potential income. At the entrance of the temple, we meet his partner again, who has a liquor shop there. My guide had already introduced me to this man at the beginning of the tour. Only when I am back in my hotel room, I recall one another. His partner was also the man who told me where to drop off my shoes, buy a camera ticket, and to go upstairs for an overview of the temple site. In other words, it was a pre-arranged setup, but I can live with that. The explanation of the guide was bright and exciting, and everything happened in a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere.
No meat and no spicy food today
It takes a while to find the stop of the bus for the ride back, but I manage within five minutes anyway. You just need to look around at where people get off. After a revitalizing shower in my room, I return for dinner to the place where I also ate last night. My stomach still bothers me a bit, so no meat for me today and even nothing too spicy. Of course, the staff who served me yesterday welcomes me with open arms.