IN THE TEMPLES OF OUR FATHERS

The worshippers jostled and shoved me along, moving clockwise around the statue and its marble enclosure.

Outside the colourful chaos of the Crawford Market I plunged in deep, following the route set out for me on my phone by Google Maps: half lost and half found. In a densely packed street I came  across a Hindu temple crowded with worshippers. A monk blessed me in the middle of the street as cars, cows and crowds surged around us. He wound a sacred thread of orange and red around my wrist, incanting a prayer as he tied a complex knot to secure the turns and expertly sliced off the excess with a box cutter knife.

The votive offerings given to me by the priest in the temple.

Inside the temple courtyard, a salesman at a stall festooned with bright orange garlands of marigolds and overflowing with votive treats, gestured for me to remove my shoes and socks, sold me a plate of offerings, then bade join the jostling throng entering the temple’s inner sanctum.

A set of metal steps led up to a raised platform where a statue of some god or other sat in an alcove draped with flowers. The worshippers jostled and shoved me along, moving clockwise around the statue and its marble enclosure. I emerged still clutching my tray of offerings, unsure of what to do with them. A young woman told me that I should go around again and this time hand the offerings to the priest (I hadn’t even seen him!) who would “place them on God.”

“I will come with you,” she said and led me back up the steps. She pointed out the temple’s main god, which I’d missed the first time around, but when I asked which god it was she shrugged her shoulders and said that she had no idea.

I handed my offerings over a stainless steel counter slotted for monetary offerings and a sweating attendant took the flowers and sweets from the tray, replacing them with blessed offerings: some yellow sweets, half a coconut and a small square of red and gold cloth. The priest himself, fat, sweating and caked with white makeup, sat cross-legged beside the god statue. My little friend (she had the most beautiful dark eyes) guided me back out into the courtyard, said goodbye, rejoined her waiting mother and was gone, swallowed by the departing crowd of worshippers.

I retrieved my shoes from the stallholder who placed my blessed rewards into a white paper bag and stepped, somewhat dazed and confused but with my karma fully replenished, back out onto the street. I had no idea what I had just witnessed. I felt as though I had been inducted into some secret sect, the membership of which opened up previously unseen facets of the city.  I had become part of Mumbai and the clouds of chaos now seemed a little less opaque. I could hear the temple bells clanging sonorously above the roar of traffic and the cacophony of voices; I could smell the incense and the marigolds. The street lay before me. I plunged in deep. 

Outside the temple, exhausted and stunned by the experience.

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