Tamil Nadu is known for its big temple towns.
Tiruchirapalli (often known by its more pronounceable abbreviation of Trichy) is home to Sri Ranganathaswamy, a huge temple whose size rivals the length of its name.
A little further south, the famous Meenakshi temple in Madurai reputedly attracts 15-25,000 people a day. It is a truly beautiful building with soaring sculptures atop brightly painted towers.
However, what is impressive is not just the scale of the building but the sheer numbers of pilgrims and visitors constantly in and around the temple complex. There are people everywhere, making it almost impossible to contemplate the stunning architecture without meeting a fresh troop of tourists at every corner. From touts offering guided tours to kids asking for school-pens and random men asking for photos, the commotion within the walls is constant.
Over the months we have noticed that Indian tours (and pilgrims seem to fall into this category as well) have a recognisable sight-seeing pattern; namely that they fall out of their transport, barge through most lines, rush around the most important sights as quickly as possible (whilst making the most amount of noise) and then leave, with as much commotion as they arrived. It may encapsulate the vibrance of India, but it does render the whole temple experience less spiritual and more chaotic. It’s a refreshing break to find the secluded shine tucked away in a corner with just a few simple candles beside it.
In a very un-tourist-like way (for India), we took our time exploring the nooks and crannies, even managing to take a photo with a minimal number of background onlookers. However, unaware of the temple’s bizarre lunch-break closing time, we did find ourselves confronted with more craziness as we tried to re-enter one area through a side door, only to be yelled at that the “Temple is closing!” Our pleas that our shoes had been left by the opposite door were met with more shouts and we were hustled out with the hoards of others.
This transpired to not only be the close of our visit, but end of P’s tolerance for temples.