Christmas and Ayappa: Dec. 24th
Christmas Eve. Sue and I went on a long, long, afternoon walk, preceded by a wonderful ride on our cross-country bikes that came in our sea shipment. Many years ago, when I first got our bikes for street riding I never imagined they would be subjected to real cross-country conditions. Welcome to India. Now I wish I had got bikes with shock absorbers.
Our Christmas walk ended up as a long stroll down Thippusandra, the "poor" street in Indiranagar. Most of the shops were closed, so we started back on a different route only to discover the first surprise of the evening — a teak lumberyard. Huge "Burmese teak" logs, four to six feet across, and forty to fifty feet long. All I could do was beg Sue for indulgence. I had found the proverbial candy store.
After sating myself, and dreaming of all the things that I could carve, we decided to walk back to Thippusandra’s main street, so that I could accurately find the timber-yard again. We heard music. Not funeral music, but fun, lively, rockin’ music - the sounds of horns and drums. At the Shiva temple on main street there was a puja (a worship ritual). It was a Kodak moment. Actually it was more of an Ampex video moment, but I will try to describe it. This was the start of the Ayappa puja. Ayappa is a local south Indian god, who is connected to Shiva in some form (I’ll find out more later).
About two hundred virginal females, smiling and giggling when they saw Sue (the only white person within five miles) led the procession. In their hands were trays containing marigolds and yonis (the vulvic/female representation of Shiva). Next up were the musicians, represented by the horn section, the drums, and the cymbals. All the musicians were bare from the waist up, wore dhotis from the waist down, and had muscular chocolate-brown bodies. Very handsome. The horns were circular bows, about 3 feet in diameter, and tied with string to prevent them from springing out of shape. They were of silver, and the actual horn was behind the player, due to the circular shape. The drummers had two ended drums (daruma), which represent the sound of the universe, according to popular consensus. The drummers use their fingers, but to get the sound they need, they cover their fingers with ceramic thimbles about two inches in length. This creates wonderful rhythms. I was in heaven. The cymbal section follows up the rear.
Next were the saddhus, dressed in black below the waist. They carry sickles and knives. These were young saddhus, so they didn’t have the usual emaciated look of a Shaivaite ascetic. Then the young men dancing backwards, and singing "A-ya-ppa" refrains to a "Shiva" chanter. Then a fire carrier, who holds an oil tray full of fire, and finally, the piece-de-resistance, a huge, male elephant, complete with a rich ornamental brass headpiece, and umbrella. Sue and I followed the elephants, chanters, women, etc., for a few miles till finally the time came for a tea break. Up until now the elephant had been fed bananas, but now it was time to worship Ganesha in style. Ganesha likes ladoos (well so do I actually). Ladoos are an Indian sweet made of sugar, butter, and garbanzo-bean flour. Humans consume ladoos that are about an inch and half in size. This apparently was not fit for Ganesha though — out came a tray with ladoos the size of green coconuts, easily eight inches in size. They disappeared into the elephant's mouth. I could tell the elephant was happy; he didn’t wait for the ladoos to be placed into his mouth. He grabbed them right off of the tray.
Merry Christmas all.