Tuesday 5th April 2016

By mira

The last temple I visited in South India was the famous Madurai temple, and I remember it well though I was a young girl. It has now been years since I’ve been to this part of India and I’d forgotten how different the temples here are – much larger, more ornate and intricate and teeming with colour. I wasn’t intent on seeing much in Chennai – working from the gorgeous Amethyst cafe and boutique, creating and teaching recipes, had been so wonderful and so fulfilling that I didn’t feel the need to go elsewhere, but I did want to visit a temple. I was still a little jet-lagged and hadn’t slept much, so a 645am start wasn’t exactly appealing, but I knew the rest of the day would pass me by and the temple would get busier… besides, there is something rather serene and unearthly about visiting a place of worship early in the morning (and places like the Golden Temple, late at night).

There was a flurry of activity at 7am on a Monday morning at Kapaleeswarar temple, yet it was peaceful and I imagine relatively quieter at this time. Built in the 16th century by the Vijayanagar kings, this Siva temple is one of the most important landmarks of the city.

Just outside the temple gates, women were arranging their flowers in their stalls, from aromatic mogra to the most beautiful pink lotuses I’ve ever seen, making delicate garlands to be bought for the deities. The deep antique red of the large temple doors looked sun-kissed and a myriad of long shadows moved along the stone floors as people walked in and out with the early morning rays shining gloriously through the gateways. I assume the abundance of flowers hanging from the gates might be due to yesterday’s festival of kumbabhishekam, which takes place in March every year, a ceremony performed for a newly constructed shrine to make it sacred for worship.

Devout followers offered flowers to the deities and lit candles in another area of the temple, some ritualistically saying prayers, others performing prayers (crossing hands and holding ears), the priests blessing them with an ashen powder, and then they made their way around this vast space, from one shrine to another, and up to the rooftop at the centre, where prayers were also being offered. This temple might be in the middle of a bustling city, but at this time in the morning, it was a sanctuary with seething calmness, after which I managed another hour of sleep before starting the day!

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