Someone told us that Indore is “the Detroit of India.” There are very friendly, expensive hotels in this modern city but, being on a budget, we looked for a cheap place to stay. The hotel we ended up at may have once been a place of beauty with its lovely design of a sweeping curved balcony overlooking a courtyard. A once luscious garden and cafe terrace were now filled with cars in various stages of disrepair. Weeds pushed their way through the motor oil-stained tiled floor.
We walked up the stairway to the balcony rooms. Passing rooms that appeared to be occupied by longer-term tenants, we checked out a small, basic room. The single bare lightbulb was dim yet enough to see the room was sufficient to sleep in. The sheets were reasonably clean. We reminded each other to look for signs of bedbugs. We told the manager, “We’ll take it.” Dropping off our gear, we locked up and went for a walk.
Out for a Walk
The evening air was a welcome cool from the heat of the day. We wandered aimlessly down streets and found ourselves near a large tent that Indian pop music was blaring out of. It was a huge wedding reception. A couple of very richly dressed people motioned for us to join in. “Come, come!” We felt timid and quite underdressed to attend such an occasion. Still, they implored us to join. We graciously declined and continued our walk. I now realize we probably missed an extraordinary experience. So it goes. We made our way back to the hotel and had a restless sleep.
The following morning, we found breakfast and made plans for our day. We read about a gigantic fluorescent orange Ganesha and a Jain temple with an interior completely covered in a mirrored mosaic. The walk was not so far from where we were. This seemed like a good plan, so off we went!
The Story of Ganesha
The son of Shiva and Parvati, Ganesha is the “remover of obstacles” and is worshipped at the beginning of any new event, venture, or pooja throughout India. This elephant-headed god is perhaps one of the most popular of the Hindu gods. How did he get an elephant head, you may ask.
Shiva was away from he and Parvati’s mountain home, Kailash, meditating. Preparing a bath, The goddess Parvati did not wish to be disturbed. Nandi, the bull who usually stood guard, was with Shiva, so Parvati took the turmeric paste (for bathing) from her body and made a statue of a boy, breathing life into him. This boy was instructed by Parvati to guard the door and not let anyone in until she had finished her bath.
When Shiva returned from his meditation, he wished to see Parvati. The boy refused Shiva’s entrance even as Shiva reasoned that he was her husband. Still, the boy, under orders from Parvati, refused. Shiva enraged, cut the boy’s head off, killing him. Parvati was furious and was about to destroy all creation. Brahma, being the creator, pleaded she reconsider her drastic plan. Parvati acquiesced with two conditions: one, that the boy be brought back to life, and two, that he be forever revered before all the other gods in prayer.
Shiva agreed to Parvati’s conditions and sent his devotees out with orders to bring back the head of the first creature that lay with its head facing the north. They soon returned with the head of a strong and powerful elephant. Brahma placed the elephant’s head atop the boy’s body and breathed new life into him. Ganesha was then offered the status of being the foremost among the gods in prayer and the title of the leader of all the classes of beings, Ganapati.
Bada Ganpati Temple
Finding the giant fluorescent orange, Ganesha was not as apparent as you might have thought. We passed many temples of all shapes and sizes in search of the temple. “Is it this temple? No. Well, maybe this temple?” Finally, we found the modest-looking Bada Ganpati temple down at the end of a quiet lane.
“Bada” means big, and “Ganpati” is the pet name of Lord Ganesha. This giant of an idol is about 25 feet (7.62 meters) high from crown to foot and 14 feet (4.26 meters) wide. It is said to be one of the largest idols of Ganesha in the world. The decorations, which are changed regularly, take eight days to apply. They say that coming to this temple and sincerely praying to Ganesha will bring you incredible luck. Maybe that’s why they call me “Lucky Lance.”
Jainism is a polytheistic religion. It teaches that the path to enlightenment is through nonviolence and reducing harm to living things. This includes plants and animals as much as possible. Some Jains wear a mask to avoid inhaling microbes that they would inadvertently kill by such action. Some Jains even stop eating to avoid killing plants. In this way, they hope to break their cycle of reincarnation. Like Hindus and Buddhists, Jains believe in reincarnation. This cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is determined by one’s karma. The difference is Jains believe in the existence of an eternal Jiva (soul). Whereas Buddhism denies the concept of self (jiva) or soul (atman), proposing the concept of no-self (anatta) instead.
The Jain Temple, Kanch Mandir
The Kanch Mandir was constructed in 1903 by Sir Seth Hukumchand Jain, an Indian industrialist. From the outside, the temple looks like a cross between an Indian idea of Victorian architecture and an old west saloon from the movies. The real surprise of this temple was when you stepped inside.
Thousands of mirrors adorn the walls, ceiling, floors, pillars, and door knobs. This was supplemented by colored patterned ceramic tiles, cut glass chandeliers, and lantern-type glass lamps. There are intricate glass paintings depicting scenes of conversion to Jainism and pictures of sinners being tortured in the afterlife. Interestingly, all the glass pieces were imported from Europe. Craftsmen from Jaipur, India, and Iran were brought in to work on the temple.
Kanch Mandir has more than 50 murals depicting Jain stories. In the main chamber, the idols of the Tirthankaras are flanked by mirrors on both sides. The use of glass creates such an effect that the statues are seen multiplied into an indefinite number. It is said to be visible up to 21 times, corresponding to the 21 Tirthankaras’ Jain temples. It really is quite a fantastic temple!
There is a special glass chamber on an upper floor with the images of Lord Mahavir in plain black Onyx. Lord Mahavir was the twenty-fourth and last Tirthankara of the Jain religion. According to Jain historians, the Buddha was younger than Mahavira and “might have attained nirvana a few years later.”
We continued our walk. The road became more rural, full of dusty potholes. The buildings were less clean, with a deterioration that comes from complete neglect. It was interesting to see this example of Indian life. The heat of the day was beating us down, and we were terribly thirsty. We saw a little store ahead. It wasn’t much of a store, only offering a few locally-made snacks that didn’t look appetizing. It certainly didn’t have any soft drinks, a traveling favorite for something safe to drink.
Next to the store was someone serving sugarcane drinks. The sugarcane stalks are rolled through a series of rollers that crush the juice from the stalks. We were so thirsty and thought this might be something to quench our thirst. We ordered two glasses of juice. The man dipped the glasses into a bucket of brackish-looking water in a quick baptism to clean them. After a few good cranks of the rollers, our glasses were filled with the sugarcane concoction.
We paid the man, and he handed us the drinks. As we both raised our glasses to drink, we both paused and looked at each other. They didn’t smell right. We recognized the definite odor that spoke of the illness that may follow. Still, we were so thirsty. Slowly, the glass came in contact with our lips, and against our better instincts, we drank the sugarcane juice. It did quench the thirst, and for this, we were happy. Maybe it would be okay anyway. Maybe the illness would not come, or maybe it would.
Next: Annapurna Mandir