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Meenakshi Pattinam

For all those who didn't know and were not astute enough to guess, I grew up in the 'Temple City' of Madurai. Raised amidst the temples in the temples city, I once believed that there is no world outside this city and its Gods (and its eternally reigning Goddess). That was when I had barely seen ten winters (For the astute reader: this is a Classical English style of declaring your age, notwithstanding the fact that Madurai does not have a marked winter). As I continued to see more winters, I could not help but accrue a different set of perceptions about the place. Honestly, the city (or pattinam as it is called in Tamil) did not morph much, but I metamorphosed.

If you pick a few random Maduraites who live or live not in Madurai now, (but have spent atleast a couple of years in the place in a bygone era) and inquire for any three spotlights of the city,  and compute the statistical modes of the answers, you are likely to get - Meenakshi Amman temple, Malligai (Jasmine flowers - All women in Madurai love flowers), Azhagar Aathu thiruvizha (the festival where Lord Kazhagar (a form of Lord Vishnu) is brought from a neigboring village to witness the celestial wedding of his sister, Goddess Meenakshi, a day late on purpose, and consequently immersed into the Madurai river in disappointment and despair).  If it is not evident, Madurai is replete with Pandyan history  and the 'thiruvilaiyadal' (Roughly translated as the celestial games played by the Gods) of Lord Shiva. The movie Thiruvilaiyadal has not left much to imagination.

If you ask me to pick "my spotlights" of the city, I would simply refuse, for the city and what it offers is too close to my heart to be partisan to a select few. The city is associated with childhood innocence (read as ignorance), a largely uncomplicated life, exam-fearing school days, petty girlie squabbles with girls and tomboyish battles with the boys, mom's vengaya sambar, the continual common colds, family doctor visits, the Vaigai super-fast(?) train,  town buses like 73A, manned tea-stalls, fresh milk and vegetables, and .... As the astute reader can guess, the list is pretty much bottomless. The top of the list is however - Meenakshi Amman and Her marvelous abode. It is said that every question about life , Universe and everything gets answered in a quiet few minutes inside her praharam.

Life in a city like Madurai is blissful as long as one stays put in the same place - probably a state of unconscious bliss. When one steps out to see the larger world outside, the pedestal of expectations, anticipations augments and eventually despondency ensues - a state of conscious perturbation?. It is also likely that one might fall out of love with their roots in a quest to branch out to the sky.  Seldom does one realize that one can attain a soulfully successful state, one should stay in frequent touch (at the least) with one's homeground. Visiting the place I grew up in after some stints of the "outside world", was what I would call a "religious experience" in the true sense of the word. I beheld Meenakshi amman with a new sense of wisdom, held the people of Madurai closer to my heart and appreciated the purer air and fresher vegetables, better.

The "outside world" makes one expand horizontally, face brittler rocks, and surge ahead materialistically while I believe that one's homeground makes  one grow deeper within onself. I had many an emotional moment when I was visiting the  school where I first learned the alphabet, the  house where I spent my innocuous years or the  Pillayar temple at the corner of the road which I used to frequent. That the old school bus drivers could recognize me even after a two decades and enquire my wellbeing with the same childlike enthusiasm, made me humbler. I had a newfound respect for the "outside world" which I believe made me endorse my roots more.

 As I strode across the Meenakshi amman temple corridor, reflecting on many little somethings that I had demanded from Her then and the few big nothings that I pray from Her now, it occurred to me that I had aged across the years, but not the Goddess, nor the city.

"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety"

How true!


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