1) we were sorrounded by a cheerful group of 8 men in their late 20's who were on their way back from a pilgrimage to a site in the state of Andra Pradesh. David and I really enjoyed watching them relate: sitting on top of each other, playing around, rubbing the freshly shaven head of one of the larger fellows in the group. Their body language was so relaxed and familiar with each other: a lot of physical contact and playfulness. We have noticed this kind of intimacy before, strictly between members of the same gender, and have been wondering about how homosexuality or homoerotic behavior is understood in India. We know homosexuality is looked down upon very strictly... we wonder about how people here are defined as "gay/lesbian" by their communities...
(David insited on buying me a garland so I could blend in better in the crowd. It was very romantic...)
We went there during the afternoon siesta, and were told that usually there are more people in the same room. Also, there are probably several places where the beedis are made all around the city. In any case, there was definitely an assembly line method going on, with the man on the left rolling the tobacco in the leaves, and the man on the right cutting out the leaves into rolling paper. We are trying to remember how many they wer able to make in a day, it was something like 2,000. The man on the right also lit one beedi after the other while working: he smoked about 30 a day. We were told it's good for the health...?
Luckly we didn't run away from the Mysore area too quickly (we did think about it at first, as we were getting adjusted to the noise and pollution.) Following the advice of our train companions, as well as our semi-professional hotel manager, we made our way to a couple of sites outside of the city. The first was Chamudi Hill, on top of which is a large temple dedicated to Durga. We went to the temple very early in the morning, taking a public bus, and then made our way down the hill along the 1,000 steps that devoted pilgrims use to reach the temple. After many donations, buying of flowers, and general religious behavior, we left the temple feeling a little weighed down by the several requests for money in the temple. To think that hundreds of people go up to Chamudi Hill every day making offerings much larger than ours! There was also a large group of tourists when we got there, surely good business for the temple. The whole thing is very reminiscent of the Catholic Church, in terms of all the money that's flowing. We did find something wonderful up on the hill: a 5 meter high Nandi placed along the stone steps about 3/4 of the way to the temple, maybe a sign to encourage the pilgrims that they've almost made it.
While in Mysore, David and I also learned about the Hoysala Empire, headed by yet another powerful dynasty in the history of India. Point of interest: the founder of the Hoysala Empire was a man originally named Bittedeva, apparently a devout Jain during the time when the Jain religion was very powerful in India. At the turn of the 12th century however, Jainism started to decline, just as the Hindu worship of Shiva and Vishnu became more prominent. Interestingly, through a timely conversion to Hinduism, right around that time Bittedeva became Vishnuvardhana. By associating himself with the new powerful n in the area as well as through many military conquests, Vishnuvardhana really established the Hoysalas in the whole Kernataka region. As a result of Vishnuvardhana's mixed religious loyalties, Kernataka has an important Hindu-Jain temple (in Sravanabelagola, about which I will write more later), in which a gigantic Jain Buddha and a Jain temple have been enclosed within the walls of a larger Hindu temple.
The Hoysalas are particularly well known for their patronage of the arts (apparently because of the interest of many different queens): from architecture to music, to dance and sculpture, and more. The Hoysala architecture is known worldwide for it's incredible sculpture and design. David and I had never seen images of the famous Hoysala temples around Mysore, so we made a short day trip to Somnathpur, 2 hours outside of the city, to check it out. It was AMAZING! We eventually made it to other Hoysala temples further North, but Somnathpur was the most complete and subtly sculpted, as well as the one in the quietest location. There is only one temple there, the Keshava temple. Below are some details from the building.
(All around the outside walls of the temple, elephants are sculpted at the bottom for stability and horses above them for speed. In other temples we saw lions between the horses and the elephants, for valor. The fourth layer from the bottom is dedicated to the recounting of stories. In Somnathpur these were extracts from the Ramayana and the Mahabarata, as well as images of courtly events.)
The temples are carved out of a rock that is very soft when wet, but which hardens complitely when dry. Margot (David's mom) explained to us that in order to create such smooth carvings the artists were constantly wetting the stone while carving it. We spent about 2 hours looking at just this one temple, examining the Ramayana and Mahabarata stories carved on the walls, as well as many individual images. Below is an example of the total absorption of our observation (as well as a nice shot of my jasmine garland!)
Anyway, there is more to our traveling to tell in order to catch up to where we are now, but I have run out of time. I will update again very soon and, as always, look forward to your comments.