A Preview of India by Audrey Griffith
At 9 am on a brisk November morning, the Elon students arrived at Sri Venkateswara Temple in Cary, North Carolina. After an hour or so in the car, students were in awe at the incredible white edifice that welcomed us. Its massive stature and immense beauty were different than anything Elon students are used to. This moment gave us just a taste of the constant bewilderment we will feel in India.
We met in front of the temple and enjoyed being back together. Our group dynamic is really forming with abundant giggles as well as plenty of academic discussion in anticipation for all of the knowledge we will attain in India. Our excitement is our biggest common ground right now and it is rare we get sick of talking about it.
After hearing a bit about what we would observe in the Temple from Amy and Brian, our centers of knowledge in this whole process, we were ready to enter the temple. Just before the entrance we were confronted with an entire shelving unit for shoes. We took our shoes off, as a sign of respect, and entered peacefully. Paintings were the décor of the ground, intended to be like the kolam art seen so frequently in India. There were offerings of fruit and candles as well as signs of worship that greeted us. Bananas and apples were abundant, used as prasad: offerings to the deity.
We entered into the room to hear priests chanting loudly and in sync. Many in the crowd were chanting with the priests. Each person in the room was sitting cross-legged on the floor moving their upper bodies in order to find a position to see god. They all wanted to achieve darsan: a mutual vision between the devotee and the deity. Many men had the Vaisnava symbol painted on their forehead to represent their devotion to the god Vishnu. Some women had rings on their second toes and red turmeric powder in the part of their hair, indicating that they are married. Children were running around and happily worshiping here. Their puja was evidently a precious time for the people in the temple.
We were welcomed with kind gazes. We must have appeared out of place but no one seemed phased by us. They welcomed us into their practices, placing sweet milk in our palms to drink. We were careful to take this with our right hand, the clean hand. Some of us were unsure of what to do with this, but it was a happy discomfort. We were adjusting to our new surrounding.
We went to the Siva temple to observe a puja to the navagrahas, the nine planets. There were long, loud chants during this and a process of dressing the anthropomorphic figures in flowers and cloths. The priest doused the murti in sesame oil in order to reflect the gaze of Saturn because darsan with this god is not desired. Those who had made a donation partook in pouring sesame oil as well.
To the side of the Siva temple, the shrine of snake goddesses was full of lit candles, flowers and fruit. A couple was clearly giving honor and worship to the snake goddesses. Professor Allocco has spent eight years of her life studying snake goddesses and their significance in South India. Her passionate work makes being around these figures so exciting. She was able to provide us with small details from the prasad in front of the murti to their connection to fertility. She presumed the couple was worshipping because of a desire for or appreciation of offspring.
After about an hour in the Siva temple, we returned to the Visnu temple to see the largest murti (image f the god) adorned in beautiful flowers. Everyone was pleased to see the god adorned in such beautiful offerings. These flowers and jewels signified great respect to the deity. More people were present for this part of the day.
After a morning of taking so much in, our stomachs were rumbling and we were ready for some Indian cuisine! Amy and Brian, with their keen knowledge of India—and food—led us to just the right place: Tower Indian Buffet. Yes-we said buffet. We certainly took advantage of the endless supply of unfamiliar food. Amy and Brian guided us through selections and helped us pick what may please our taste buds.
Many of us were excited by the wide variety of bread selections. Idli was a favorite for many. It is a simple cake-like substance with a savory flavor from the rice and lentils, its two main components. Many enjoyed the vadai, fried lentil donuts. Many were pleased to see Indians like fried food as well. The waiters brought out a large amount of masala dosa: these are lentil crepes filled with potatoes. In addition to our variety of delicious carb options, there was a large variety of lentil and vegetable dishes. Many were hard to recount but they certainly were filling and pleasing. Sambar, a lentil stew, was key to our meal and will be to many of our meals in India. Rasam was also delicious by itself and on top of rice. This spiced soupy dish will also be key to many of our meals.
The exposure to the variety of foods was exciting and prepared us thoroughly for our future meals. We finished with delicious desserts, making our plethora of “sweet tooths” quite content. Many were joking that the one dish tasted like donuts doused in maple syrup. And the mango ice cream was certainly a hit as well. Some of us finished with a few seeds that tasted strongly of mint. The eating experience was different for many and very exciting!
Our time in Cary was just a taste of the daily flavor our India trip will burst with. Excitement is building.!