Saturday, July 23, 2005

For those annoying religious problems...

At Ganapatipule earlier today, a priest told me about the famous temple's history. It was over 450 years old, though the shrine was relatively new, having been built by Shivaji, the king. Like most origins, this was a vague one as well. Apparently a cow owner found out that his cow, which otherwise gave no milk, would walk over to a rock in the woods everyday and douse it with milk. That night, in a dream, Ganapati told him that he, the god, lived in that rock.

Presently, that red rock had milk poured over it by young priests, as had been the case daily for over four centuries. It was garlanded, had reliious markings over it, and was narrow at the top and thick at its base, which gave it a vague resemblance to Ganapati. The priests advised that if I took a round of the hill behind the temple, where the rock was located, all my dreams would come true. So with time to kill before the next bus to nowhere rattled along, I walked up the paved path that rang around the hill. The faithful were scattered along the path sweeping, mopping, and cleaning as penance. Then, just as I could take no more - as I carried a considerably weighty backpack - a man in a hut asked me to offer my prayers. On the hut floor - and this was what the fuss was about - was a rock shaped vaguely like an elephant trunk. There were bells and religious markings and more bells and money spread about it. The man demanded a payment before leaving.

Down the hill, a coconut seller sat mournfully at the empty bus stand. It was the off season. I asked him if the priest's words about dreams coming true was true. A man translated this into marathi. The seller closed his eyes and made a clicking sound. No, was the translation, it's just a story they tell people. The translator and I then got talking about what we were doing here. He was a government health inspector taking blood samples, he said. For what? Elephantiasis.

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