Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sri Kalahasteeswara, a Temple near Tirupati

Today (Dec 30) Saritha Reddy and her cousin, Nirajan, took me to visit this temple, located in the town of Sri Kalahasti, about 30 miles east of Tirupati.

By now, I’ve seen lots of temples, large and small, dotted about the landscape. This was the first I actually entered and progressed through, along with the hundreds, if not thousands, of other pilgrims who thronged the place.

I took off my shoes and socks in the taxi before stepping out onto the stone pathway that led to the entrance to the temple. We proceeded first through an open enclosure where an elephant, worshipped by Hindus (along with cows and other creatures), was drawing crowds who paid a small amount in order to be bestowed a gentle blow on the head from the pachyderm’s trunk. I was so blessed.

Soon we were snaking our way through the temple proper, where brass barriers guided us from one sacred shrine to another, culminating in the inner sanctum, where Shiva reigns supreme. A spot of red powder was pressed upon my forehead as I paused in front of Shiva to pray for my family and friends.

A small bowl of temple-blessed food (Prasad) concluded our visit. Just as an aside, a snake charmer came up to our car on the way home and showed off his pet cobra, which I snapped for the record.

The Indian people are overwhelmingly and genuinely devoted to their religions. But the culture that makes India what it is has emerged over thousands of years from an assimilation of religions and cultures as they have come and gone. The huge majority of Indians follow the Hindu religion, but it is history that shapes a culture and it is history that has made the Indians the beautiful, gentle, purposeful, hard-working, thoughtful, contemplative, all-embracing people they are.

Unfortunately, there are gross inequalities everywhere in India, notwithstanding the government’s close to sixty-year struggle to overcome it. But we should bear in mind that it took a thousand years for so called developed nations to put behind them the dark ages and the gross inequalities of feudal societies. Indeed, these developed nations still harbor significant social inequalities. So we cannot expect India to emerge as a fully developed nation overnight.

India deserves to succeed. They're on their way. They've just had a spectacular year on the stock market. Brave decisions are being made to level the playing field by offering equality of opportunity to all. But it's going to take a long time to get to where they want to go and, as everyone readily recognizes, universal equal opportunity to education is the necessary road to success.

On this New Year's Eve, 2006, may the coming year 2007 bring them ever closer to their goal.

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