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Round-the-Clock Bus Travel in South India

May 15, 2009

My trip to Veerapandi last weekend had me on buses most of the time. I departed from my home near Pondicherry at 2 p.m. on Saturday. I travelled 40 minutes to Tindivanam, where I caught a bus (see the purple bus featured in the photo below) that was heading to Tiruvanathapuram, Kerala, via Madurai, which was where I wanted to spend the night. The journey took from around 3 p.m. till 11 p.m. In Madurai, I hired a room at New Ruby Lodge, off Town Hall Road. I slept at around 1 a.m., and woke at 3:30 a.m. to catch a bus at 4:30 for Veerapandi from the Arapalayam bus stand. I arrived at Veerapandi at 6:30 a.m., which was a very good time to arrive. Pilgrims were already busy with their rituals, but the place wasn’t overcrowded.

I explored Veerapandi for four hours. At 10:30 a.m., I caught a bus up to Kumili, a town in the nearby hills, to escape the heat for a couple of hours. I arrived in Kumili by around 1 p.m. It was indeed cooler up there, by at least a few degrees. At around 3 p.m. I boarded a bus for Kambam, where I transferred to a Madurai bus, arriving in Madurai at around 6 p.m. At 10 p.m. I boarded a bus for Pondy. That bus broke down at 3 a.m. The driver woke a young roadside mechanic who worked under the bus by the light of a cellphone for two hours. He changed the fuel line, and at 5 a.m. we were again underway. I arrived home at around 8:30 on Monday morning. Needless to say that my legs and ankles looked like balloons by the time I reached home.

Tamil Nadu State Transport Bus

Tamil Nadu State Transport Bus


Mariyamma Festival in Veerapandi

May 15, 2009

On Sunday, May 10, I travelled to Veerapandi, near Theni, to attend a famous annual festival for Goddess Mariyamma. The weeklong festival attracts thousands of pilgrims, many of whom fulfill vows by carrying assorted pots from a nearby river to the temple. Devotees carry pots of fire, pots of water and neem leaves, and pots that are perforated with many holes, symbolizing Mariyamma’s one thousand eyes.

While carrying pots from the river to the temple, many families hire drummers, and many people become possessed, dancing and wailing along the route. Some pilgrims practice penance by rolling around the Mariyamma shrine inside the temple.

It is an extremely colorful and boisterous occasion, attracting a large assortment of vendors, and coinciding with a carnival that features many amusement rides, magic shows and a circus.

I attended the festival to gather first-hand impressions to inform a setting in my novel. While interviewing women who live in a slum in Madurai, several of the women said that they grew up in villages near Veerapandi. I asked them what they enjoyed when they were growing up. All of them said that they eagerly anticipated going to the annual festival at Veerapandi. It was a common denominator that all the women’s stories shared.lady looks at camera 3

The biggest surprise during my visit was when some local children called me to the temple’s chariot and pointed out some erotic carvings. The children insisted that I photograph the carvings. One of the carvings appears in the photo in the header above this post. I found it surprising that a country in which many people fervently oppose sex education in schools tolerates such sexually explicit carvings on a temple chariot. The carving certainly leaves nothing to the imagination. See the Photos page of my blog for other carvings.