it’s been a couple of weeks

So … it’s been a couple of weeks. Time seems to be flying by here. It’s kind of surprising to realize that sometimes in a place where the pace is so relaxed.

Almost two weeks ago we attended the wedding of one of our neighbors. Her name is Jessila, and she’s actually a member of the Chavadi branch of the Church here. She married a Christian man named Babu in the nearby city of Tiripur—it was, of course, an arranged marriage. Her family rented a few large bus/vans that we rode in with many other neighbors. The vehicles were packed. Ashley counted 35 people in ours alone. The trip took about two hours, although half of that was spent in an intense traffic jam about a kilometer away from our destination.

One of the difference with weddings here is that there is usually a wedding hall rented for a night or two. The wedding hall usually has a cafeteria-type area where meals are served. Other than that there’s a few small rooms (mostly for the bride and groom’s preparations), some bathrooms, and one more big room. The big room accomodates a lot of the ceremonies that surround the marriage, such as the engagements negotiations that occur late in the night between the two families. All the guests stay right there in the wedding hall, sleeping on the cement floor, so it’s like a giant slumber party.

Usually the marriage ceremony would take place in a nearby church (for a Christian wedding). In this case, Matthew (our landlord and branch president) was the one to conduct the ceremony, and since there wasn’t an LDS chapel on hand, it was held in the wedding hall. For some reason it started at 6 am, so we got to see the sky get light outside the windows through the ceremony. Another interesting thing was singing hymns as part of the marriage program: “Love One Another,” “Count Your Blessings,” “Love at Home.” And since most of those in attendance were not LDS, those of us who were had to sing really loudly.

On the way home we stopped in Coimbatore to watch Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. As the movie began, the screen went dark and a line of words in blue letters appeared on the screen. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ….” We knew that was what it said, because that’s how Star Wars movies start … except that this time the words were in Hindi! The classic rolling Star Wars credits were also in Hindi. Fortunately once the actual movie started all the speaking was English, but we spent those first few minutes wondering if we’d wasted 25 rupees on a movie we wouldn’t be able understand, and wondering whether the Tamil audience was going to riot (Tamils are generally proud of having a separate language and culture from north India).

Later that week we attended a memorial service at the Shanti Ashram, an NGO that several of our students are working with to research women’s development and village planning. The Ashram was founded in the late eighties by Dr. Aram and his wife Mrs. Minoti. Both had been followers of Gandhi, and decided that they wanted to start an organization based on his teachings. So they moved to South India, chose a cluster of villages called Perur Block to work in, and have been doing great work here ever since.

The service was in honor of Dr. Aram, who passed away a few years back. As part of the service, the Ashram announced three new programs, one of which is being funded almost entirely from the proceeds of BYU’s Hunger Banquet last March, an event I was involved with. It really is an exciting program, and a wonderful organization, and it was an honor to be able to present them with the funds personally. I am going to be checking in every week or so to see how the program’s advancing, which I’m excited to be a part of.

The rest of my time has been staying alive—eating, sleeping, washing clothes. And when I have a spare moment or two, I do my research. I’m studying the Hindu sacred spaces in the village where we live, the temples and shrines where people worship. Part of my project has been to map the village and these sacred sites. I’ve been working with one of the other students and his GPS unit to do that.

Otherwise I’ve been observing puja (prayer or worship) ceremonies at the three main temples. Last week there was a festival in honor of the biggest temple’s anniversary. I watched that, which involved some worship ceremonies at all three temples over the course of about four hours. The village drummers were there, which was really fun to see.

The real work is trying to learn the meaning behind these temples and the ceremonies that are performed there. With the help of Jagadesh I’ve been discussing puja with the pandaram (the priest who facilitates puja), Jagadarnan.

In the next few weeks I hope to interview one of the priests at a larger temple nearby, the Ramachandra family (who as the highest-caste family in the village are the major financial contributors to the temples of Chavadi), and hopefully a temple architect. I also want to do a survey or structured interview with various people in the village to get a sense of the regular worship habits here.

There’s so much to do. I can’t believe we are only in the village for another month.

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