Archive for August, 2013

They talking to me in Hindi!

August 17, 2013

That was the thought that popped in my head as I made my way into the famous Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram.

We had decided to stop at the temple partly because we wanted to begin to show our 8 year old son that India had many historical structures that were over a 1000 years old.  You see my son is currently fascinated by Greek mythology, and I was beginning to wonder why Indian mythology is not as appealing to him. I thought showing him some spectacular temples and some of the stories behind those temples will get him interested.

The temple did not disappoint one bit. It is a magnificent complex, with an outer courtyard that has shops that sell silk sarees that Kanchipuram is famous for. We parked in this courtyard and started walking barefoot towards the temple. The shopkeepers of these silk saree shops were an enterprising bunch, and immediately tried to push their wares on us. None of this was a surprise. What was a surprise was that they tried to do this in Hindi. Now this is puzzling for two reasons:

1. We are Tamilians, and while we were dressed in t-shirt and jeans, etc., I did not think we looked like north Indians. It is not like we said a word in any language. They were talking to us in Hindi based solely on how we looked.

2. This is Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu we are talking about, and of all the languages other than Tamil that anyone can speak in a temple in Tamil Nadu, Hindi was the last language I would have expected.

As I mentioned this to my Mother, she remarked that it was because of the color of the sacred thread I had tied around my right wrist. Apparently, that is what gave it away, because south Indians, apparently tie yellow threads around their wrists and north Indians tie red ones.

Had I known this, I would have tied a red thread around my wrist on that day in the final year of college. It was the day I was going to pick up my student visa from the American embassy. I had an old TVS-50 that my uncle had loaned me, and of course being a final year under-graduate student in 1990-1991, I did not have a valid drivers license, etc. I got pulled over for some reason by a cop, and he started quizzing me in Tamil. Now, while Tamil is supposedly my native tongue, I am not particularly fluent in it. In addition, when the cop asked me where I was from, I said Calcutta, which was technically correct at the time. He then asked me whether I speak Hindi, and I said yes. He took me to another cop who spoke in Hindi and after I answered his questions, he let me go. Had I had a red thread around my wrist maybe the cop would have cut to the chase and started the conversation in Hindi.

Now getting back to the temple. We reached the temple just around the time when the evening archanais were happening at all the key sannadhis. It was a pleasure to see the local folks likely visiting the temple prior to dinner or whatever. This Varadaraja Perumal temple is famous for its golden lizard, and a local gentleman was kind enough to explain to my son that if you touch the lizard, then you will be spared all the inauspicious consequences of lizards falling on you. That was serendipitous because my son was getting upset with all the lizards hiding behind the AC units at home. So all in all, a very satisfactory visit.

Now when I succeed in explaining to my son that this temple is one of the Divya Desams, and that we are supposedly descended from the person who founded the temple at Thirukannamangai that is also a Divya Desam, hopefully he will begin to appreciate Indian history and mythology as much, if not more than, Greek mythology.