As the morning heat escalated I climbed the shore slope to find myself a hotel. Unbelievably, I collided with a scene that was part Tolkien, part Hayao Miyazaki.
Hordes of women and men–young, old, and quite old– latched onto four thick tethers in front of an ornate, towering palace on wheels. Women on the left, men on the right. At the call of a signal: Heave! and the sandal-clad minions lurch forward as the chariot creeps forward one foot, then two, then three– and stop!
Men scurry to the buildingtops and clip electric cables that have been illegally strung across the street in order to give the chariot further clearance.
Under the edifice, the burliest men guide the route of the wheels–immense wooden toy discs by spreading soil under the path and wedging them to prevent to counteract inertia or back slippage.
All of this to escort a comparatively minuscule shiny metal figurine dwarfed by garlands of marigold. An explanation is in order.
Each hindu temple is consecrated to one of the religion’s firmament of deities (perhaps with ancillary temples on the grounds for additional gods). The temples actually house the gods in the form of icons–from a lump of stone representing Lord Shiva to the most ornate hand-crafted bronze statuette. When crafted according to vedic ritual, the creations become the dwelling place of the god. Interestingly, these holy artifacts have lifespans, with even the most ornate and revered sculpture extinguishing in less than a millennium.
It is generally accepted that Hindu gods are possessive and territorial. Hence, once a year, the town’s devotees take great pains to parade their god around the town so that it can survey its dominion. In the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu, immense rolling pagodas are constructed for this purpose in much the same way that neighboring Kerala employs elephants. Fascinating.