Friday, June 30, 2006

Religious Plans Come December

The Indian Express is horrified that Sabarimala, a men-only temple in Kerala, has been polluted by a film actress. I’ve been aware of the Sabarimala restrictions (in a sort of gender-as-caste way) on females of menstruating age for a while, so what I’m actually horrified about is that the Express--reputedly a national, secular rag would get their knicks in such a bunch over this.*


In my non-catholic life i.e. life outside of school hours, the lead up to the month-long Christmas vacation was a strangely contradictory time.


It was peak time for the aforementioned Sabarimala devotees--who took 41-day temporary mendicant oaths in honor of Lord Ayyappa,** wearing handwoven unbleached cotton and swearing off meat, alcohol, sex, cigarettes, and other addictive behaviors.


On the Hindu lunar calendar it was also close to Margazhi the month sacred to Andal who went from adoring Lord Ranganatha** to actually marrying him. South Indian Hindu women of certain classes and generations typically beautify themselves (flowers in freshly washed and oiled hair, turmeric dye on face, lampblack outlining eyes) and sing the Tiruppavai the beautiful collection of sometimes incredibly erotic verses Andal wrote before the Lord materialized.


It’s scary to speculate on how supremely frustrating couplehood in a household with devotees from both camps could be. And of course at school we invented our own secondary myths--if we looked 12 Ayyappa devotees in the eye, anything we wished for would come true; if we said the first verse from the Tirupavvai everyday, our husbands would be as handsome and faithful as Ranganatha himself :).

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* Acknowledgement that the pun in this sentence is particularly, and horribly, gratuitous.

** “Lord” throughout this post refers to godly rather than feudal entities.

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