Getting Religious (Finally)

Friday, Mar. 6, 8:52 PM
Tracsi, Karnataka, India

Album: Two Lone Swordsmen’s “A Virus With Shoes”. Tracks: Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Cloned Christ on a Hover Donkey…

Disney-tastic.  These sculpted scenes were larger than life, and tought me the story of the Sage Ravana becoming immortal, except I couldn't understand it b/c it was in Hindi (or Karnat, like I can tell the difference!)
Disney-tastic. These sculpted scenes were larger than life, and tought me the story of the Sage Ravana becoming immortal, except I couldn't understand it b/c it was in Hindi (or Karnat, like I can tell the difference!)

It’s Friday night, baby! I only know that because I title these blogs with the date, and well, weekend already (whatever, meaningless nonsense!) Tonight I write from an outdoor room in the annex of Christ King’s Church, where we are staying tonight for free courtesy of Father Anil and the Catholic Diocese of central Karnataka. We’re here basically because, unimpressed with any of the guest house options here (and after being spoiled in a thousand rupee room last night we only paid 300 for) we thought we’d give it a shot. It was definitely a lot of work to save $2 each, but today’s spontaneous and random choices had a value well beyond that of saved currency – it’s been out of the ordinary and worthwhile.

The last 48 hours have been unusually religious. You’d think in India, the holiest land of the holiest people, that we’d have had more experiences of religious nature, but we haven’t been seeking it out. Sure, we see dozens of temples every day, and go inside ones that look cool, and we see various ceremonial acts all the time, but the last couple days have been a little more indulgent.

The Golden Gate to freaky Murdeshwar
The Golden Gate to freaky Murdeshwar
The world's tallest Lord Shiva statue (123 feet!)
The world's tallest Lord Shiva statue (123 feet!)
A view from the (suprisingly classy) temple
A view from the (suprisingly classy) temple

Part I: Yesterday, we got a tip from the head waiter in a restaurant we frequented for a couple days to visit a village that wasn’t on my map, nor was it mentioned in our Rough Guide, but I can scarcely believe that it wasn’t given it’s sheer outlandishness. After biking for a couple hours through some scorched and barren hills (but happily entering into lands where Muslims temples and people are more visibly entering the mix of predominant Hindus and Christians) we see a swank, clean, new-looking gold and silver archway (yet old and traditional in styling), the entrance to Murudeshwara. From the onset the name seemed odd to me (Murder and War in same name?) and upon biking in to survey the main street we found a massive temple, just covered in statues, reliefs, and towering above the town (the tallest thing I’ve seen in India), accompanied by a GIANT Shiva statue on the adjacent hill, glimmering silver and shiny, with the ocean surrounding him on three sides. There were huge silver and gold statues everywhere: of chariots and horses, a big sun, elephants, gods and goddesses and a calf the size of a bus, Buddha sitting under a tree gaining enlightenment… it was like Hindu Disneyland cum Las Vegas. We managed to book the nicest room we’ve stayed at to date for 300 rupees, (our standard rate), the owner drives us into town and gives us the scoop that a single man owns and commissioned this entire pilgrimage site, which we wonder in its extravagance (and gaudiness) if it’s namesake is trying to buy himself into heaven so to speak. The actual temple was gorgeous and classy, my favorite so far. We hung around for a while inside, and saw so much. The ‘staff’ was friendly enough to usher us into good positions to watch different prayers and services in progress, and there was so much going-on that at times I had to jump out of the way as not to be in the middle. Next we went to investigate this giant Shiva, and found a cave below him. In true Disney fashion there was a cave we walked through under the statue, with a larger-than life three-dimensional scenic telling of the making of one of the gods. (Eeek, I don’t know which one! But man I Can’t Wait to get to some internet so I can read all about it and this whole place I’m describing. It’s so hard to Not have information about places you’re visiting… India’s way too big and rich for our guide book to scratch the surface of all these in-between spots, or tell these stories in any detail. And of course there’s never even a token plaque or faded display of info which accompany most monuments of national treasures back home.) Anyway, sometimes you get the story word-of-mouth, but it’s usually in broken English and I can’t retain much anyhow so you and I will just have to deal!

Monumental!
the Monumental Raja Gopura (temple gate) at Murdeshwar, also the World's largest at 250ft

(Time check: 7 hours till 5am alarm!)

Part II: Today, as most days now and for a while to come, we woke before sunrise and biked 50-60km by 11am, As I mentioned before, we got spoiled in fancy silver, gold and marble Murdeshwar (town was fancy) so today our dingy accommodations choices for the same price seemed decidedly lackluster, so Jamey popped-into the Christ King Catholic Church to inquire about staying, as some fellow cyclists we encountered last week tipped us off on. Their recommendation carried a disclaimer (that it was barely worth the effort, as they much preferred camping 5-6 days a week, broken up by the occasional couch surfer, church or police station.) After sitting in the rectory office with Father Anil, he sent us off to the police station with a letter in-hand, as recent religious tensions have erupted in the region and it was a security precaution. We waited around, tired, thirst, and Hungry for what seemed like forever (90 minutes) until the Big Cheese police officer finally called us into his office to ask us a million questions about our trip and scrutinize our passports. Eventually he was on the phone with our Father and he told us he had no issue with us staying, and that it was at the pastor’s discretion for us to stay. 3 hours later we were eating Tali (regional Indian set meal, cheap, delicious and varied as Nepali Dal Bhat but I think more interesting), and then we went down to the beach to cool off as it was still mid-afternoon and blazing. Notable happening at the beach was when Amy, wading-in to avoid cast-soakage, got clobbered by a renegade wave, submerging her cast (oops!) which felt good for a few minutes (as you can imagine, after biking and Never wetting it in this heat for 3 weeks now), but still that can’t be good. (It’s still wet.) As we got back to Church evening mass was starting, so Jamey and I threw on long pants and slipped into a pew to see our Father-friend at work. Mass was usual as I remember it, except it was in the local language (whatever it is in Karnataka – it varies in each state! – 17 main languages in India but countless in reality). I haven’t been to a real mass in ages, and it was kind of nice. As usual, I had to fight nodding-off during the long gospel readings (I’d barely be listening to if it was in English), not to mention that they went ALL around the stations of the cross (which took forever) with additional readings as we’re in Lent, but it was good to eat the Body and have a quick conversation with the man upstairs. In the last few months I’ve thought more about my own spirituality and religious identity than I have in years, which is pretty much non-practicing Roman Catholic – yes, it is still my identity – in light of exploring everyone else’s religious practices all around me, but that’s another conversation. So Mass was good, especially the surprise “Happy Birthday” the parish sang to Father Anil, who turned 41 today, and yummy fruit cake that was passed around. After mass I asked him if he had any special dinner plans, and if he’d like to get a 10 rupee dosa down the street with us, but he had dinner plans over at the Convent. We showered, went for a walk, had the Cheapest and Best dosas ever, then went ever to admire a temple to the snake god that we noticed earlier down the block. We chatted with the family who made it, admired it as it was indeed impressive, then walked to the main intersection of the village for ice creams on me, where I chatted with a couple Muslim guys about American economic issues VS. poor Indian and Middle-Easterners who are poor and happy, which somehow segued to O$ama Bin L@den and religious terrorism. Too much more one night! Now I crawl under the mosquito net and hope Big red ants don’t bite. Good night!

Christ King Catholic Church, where we slept in Tracsi
Christ King Catholic Church, where we slept in Tracsi
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