With our thirst quenched, we realized the Annapurna Temple wasn’t very far away from where we were. Some other travelers had told us of its beauty, so we went to find out for ourselves.
Built in the 9th century for the goddess Parvathi, who is also known as Annapurna Devi, the Annapurna Temple is the oldest temple in Indore. Annapurna means the “Giver of food and nourishment.” The deity is depicted in the act of preparing food by keeping a ladle in one hand and a container in the other. Parvati is the archetypal mother goddess, fertility image, and apparently cooks up a fine meal!
As we arrived, we walked through the highly ornamented gate, past four impressively massive elephant statues, and into the central courtyard. Here, we could already see colorful relief panels depicting various scenes of Shiva, Hanuman, and Kalbhairav, as well as other legendary characters of Hindu mythology. The temple grounds were not crowded at all, with only a very few Hindus praying at one of the shrines.
Where Does This Lead To?
Inside was spacious. This must be to accommodate the masses of people that come to visit, but it was empty. We were the only people wandering around looking at the panoramic alcoves featuring ornate representations of gods and goddesses with white faces and heavily painted makeup. We came upon a long hallway that was divided by a post and rail queue barrier to channel the masses into a line. Where does this lead to? Looking up, we noticed a sign that said, “No non-Hindus Beyond this point.”
Perhaps we are terrible, but we could not resist. Curiosity bade us to continue forward. Slowly, we walked the maze of the queue barrier down the slight decline until we reached a chamber. At one end, was a beautiful life-size dark stone sculpture of a bull. Walking over to admire it, we saw a small room full of Pujari (Hindu priests). In the middle of the small room was the largest Shiva Lingam we had seen.
Smiling, the Pujari motioned us to come into the small room and sit there with them right in front of the Lingam. Donna and I sat down. You may remember from previous writings that the Lingam is representative of the male phallus or penis. The Yoni, which is at the base of the Lingam, represents the vulva and vagina. So, all of this puja activity is very sexual in nature.
I did a Google search for the Lingam we sat next to, or at least a good representation of it. Some were short and squat. Some were quite small, pocket sized. A pocket Lingam? Still, none measured up to the fully erect nature of the Lingam we encountered. This photo of the Lingam is so you can visualize the classic Lingam. But the one we were next to, the Yoni was at floor level and the Lingam was quite a bit taller than we were sitting next to it.
Red kumkum powder, yellow turmeric powder, and other colorful spices were carefully applied as an ornate silver container hanging from the ceiling continuously drizzled milk cream onto the tip of the Lingam. Wreaths of flowers were around the base of the Lingam. One of the Pujari was stroking the Lingam with both hands from top to bottom while others were chanting. This all seemed quite masturbatory.
One of the Pujari then motioned that we should put our hand onto the side of the Lingam. Donna and I looked at each other and, together, reached out and laid our right hands on the Lingam. The energy was like someone plugged us into an electric socket! It felt like a bolt of electricity surging through our bodies! It wasn’t painful, just highly intense.
The Pujari slowly swiped his finger on the Lingam, collecting a bit of the red kumkum powder. He then put a dot of it on each of our foreheads, creating a bindi. Another Pujari removed two of the wreaths of flowers from the Lingam and put them on us. With the energy of the Lingam still strongly surging through us, the Pujari smiled and motioned that our time to depart had come.
We had no idea how long we had been in the little room, but as we arose to leave, we saw that the empty chamber was now completely full of people pushing and straining to see the two of us in the small room. We were intensely vibrating from the energy. The sea of people parted before us as we slowly floated out of the room.
Outside, someone told us that the puja on that Lingam had been continuous for the last 600 years. Imagine all that energy that was now surging through us! We were also told that we should return that evening for an exceptional performance of one of India’s most famous Kathak dancers. The Kathak dance performs the same beats as the tabla with their feet, like Indian tap dancing. We agreed that we would return.
We continued the vibrate and buzz even into the evening when we returned to the temple for the Kathak performance. There were quite a few people that had come to see the dance. They must have expected us, for we were greeted with smiles and directed to sit front and center before the stage. The stage was beautifully decorated with a multitude of flowers and silk material that flowed gently in the evening breeze. Stage right were two tabla players, quietly putting a final tuning to their instruments.
A man dressed in a formal white kurta pajama stepped onto the stage and began to speak in Hindi to the audience. The MC directed the audience’s attention to the tabla players, who received polite applause. Someone next to us leaned over and whispered that the woman who would be dancing tonight was one of the most famous Kathak dancers in all of India, Nighat Chaudhry. The dancer then stepped onto the stage to great applause.
After a gracious bow toward the audience and an appreciative gesture toward the musicians, she struck a pose that reminded us of the many carvings we had seen in the temples. There was a moment of silence, and then the hypnotic rhythm of a tabla began. She slowly moved with the rhythm. Her silk sari flowed around her as she spins. Her feet tapped out the same rhythm as the tabla while she moved around the stage.
What started as a slow, gentle beat gradually accelerated in tempo. The dancer matched the rapid-fire tabla beats with her feet as they tapped faster and faster. Soon, she was like a graceful whirling dervish, matching every note. The energy of the tabla and dance hit a crescendo and, with a final riff, came to an abrupt halt together. The audience erupted in a thunderous applause.
The dancer again bowed to the audience and made an appreciative gesture toward the musicians. She then spoke to the audience in Hindi. Turning to the musicians, the tabla player began with a complicated riff. She then matched it with her feet. He played an even faster and more complicated riff, to which she matched. This duel continued back and forth with more and more fast and complicated rhythms as the tabla player tried to stump her.
It was then her turn. Back and forth, they played with increasing difficulty and speed. The tabla player was really incredible but, in actuality, was no match for the dancer. Her rhythms were eventually beyond his ability. With a joyous laugh, he stood from his tabla and bowed to the dancer with folded hands, accepting his defeat. The audience applauded loudly. She graciously bowed to him and motioned a sweeping hand toward the audience, which erupted into more applause. It was a magnificent performance.
The Evening Completed
As the concert finished, the crowd began to disperse. One or two curious people asked us how we liked the show, followed by the typical questions. “What is the good country of your origin?” “How do you find India?” “Is this your first time for visiting our fine country?” We found the Indian ‘head bobbing’ while asking questions to be very cute.
As we left the concert, we could still feel the energy from earlier that day surging through us. I asked Donna if we would ever be ‘normal’ again. “What?” She looked at me surprised, “Were we ever ‘normal?” We laughed and walked back to our hotel room above the pit of broken cars. What a day this had been!
Next: “The name is Bond, James Bond”