Monday, October 21, 2013

Ramblings from the Sri Mariamman Temple

A pantheon of Hindu gods, the more colorful, the better - according to the lecturer who gave a tour here, a Hindu temple should appeal to all of our senses - sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste, and thought, which is the sixth of our senses.... This is the gopuram, the massive entrance tower leading to the Sri Mariamman temple in the middle of Chinatown in Singapore. 

Long time, no posts... I'm not sure if I've been too busy, too lazy, or just too distracted to write anything for almost six weeks - the longest blog silence since I started this little "blog journal" in June 2008. Early September, I started the so called "Docent training" at the Asia Civilizations Museum, and together with my part time work and other things happening, I just haven't been able to jot down even the smallest of posts here.

A colorful and loud profession honoring the gods - scented tuberose and rose petals were thrown on the holy man, who was chanting loudly accompanied by small drums and other instruments and shielded by a colorful umbrella... truly an attack on the senses, if you are not used to high levels of noise.

Baby Krisna sucking his toes on a banyan leaf, contemplating the creation of the world... the full story and its meanings are really quite complicated, and would take far too much place here. The background was probably the only white surface in the temple... The Hindu imagery and pictorial language - from the lavish forms and decorations to the gaudy colors - are so extravagant, that my "Scandinavian minimalist eyes" have never really enjoyed them as art, but I still find them interesting from the cultural point of view.
I'm not sure how my studies are going. Despite the fact that I love the arts and cultures of Asia, and was amazingly happy to have been accepted to the program (it is on volunteer base, no specific academic requirements), I've been struggling with the course, many times feeling like a complete failure. Especially the "practical exercises", where you need to "recite" details of given weekly concepts and artifacts in front of your group has been a challenge. You need to do this without notes or seeing the actual object, so I tend to get lost, forget my words in front of the group, and/or just generally feel like an complete idiot, forgetting all beautiful details that I'd written and practiced about them for days before. Even if I'm definitely not an extrovert, I wouldn't describe myself as shy either, and I've held many presentations in the past quite successfully, something that is just not happening now. Also, I actually do have a degree in Art History and love the subject dearly, so my discomfort and general unhappiness about how I'm managing has been a great surprise and a disappointment to me the last six weeks. The group is quite competitive, and I'm often a bit uncomfortable with large gatherings of females anyway (somehow, I've always worked better with groups of men, however competitive they might be), so maybe I'm just having hard time adjusting... Anyway, I'm hanging out there, hoping that things get better with more practice. And even if I'll never be the best of the class, I am still learning a lot and adding to my "capital of knowledge", which will be my reward when the training ends.

Just inside the entrance to the temple - a riot of colors and forms, together with gods and sacred animals... Our lecturer told that Hinduism in not pantheistic, despite often being mentioned as such, but that the gods are all parts that together form one eternal god - like drops of water that together make an ocean...The different "gods" just highlight different aspects of the one eternal god, and can be venerated separately according to what feels right for one who is praying.  

Goddess Meenakshi, an Avatar of Parvathi, god Shiva's consort, holding a green parakeet, with the ferocious eyes of Kali beaming from above (both Kali and Parvathi are consorts of lord Shiva - the Hindu religious mythology really is quite complicated!). Again, eye-scorching colors and extravagant decorations to wake your senses...
Otherwise, I've been busy at work. The Minister of Economy and Trade from Finland will be visiting Singapore on Wednesday and I've been arranging a seminar for the Finnish Business Community here. So in addition to the studies, you probably understand that I've not been able to do much cultural exploration for the moment and desperately need to get back on track... Until I get going again, here are a couple of pictures from a Docent training lecture at the Sri Mariamman temple in Chinatown. It is the oldest Hindu temple and also a major tourist attraction in Singapore. "Skammen den som ger sig", as they say in Sweden, which means something like "shame on the one who gives up'. That will be my motto for my studies and all other things cultural for the next couple of months.  

 A holy man in a very pretty pink cloth, watching over visitors inside the inner temple.

All these tummies... Ganesha, easily recognized because of his elephant head, is widely known as the "remover of obstacles". He is also the patron of arts and sciences, and Lord of the Letters and Learning -  amongst many other divine duties. Ganesha is an extremely popular deity amongst Hindus, and in Singapore, statues of him are commonly found by the entrance of Hindu homes. For the moment, I could definitely use some little help from him in my studies...
And last - Sri Mariamman herself, decked with flower garlands and with incense and other offerings on the table in front of her. On the right, there is even a small ceremonial cradle - this mother goddess is worshipped as the goddess of fertility, and offerings are left for her in hope that she brings rain and prosperity - all quite logical connections really.

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