She. With freshly washed, moist tresses glistening with the shine of coconut oil. Fair in complexion, a pearly white smile adorning her face. A small stroke of sandalwood paste smeared across her forehead and the hint more sandalwood peeping out of her neck. She. The one with the golden bordered ivory coloured blouse and pavada (a long skirt for the uninitiated) or, on those special occasions, if one gets especially lucky dressed in traditional white saree with the gold border blouse. She. A divine vision!
A vision that has been sighted more often in the recent past. Thanks to e-mail forwards from gratification starved male IT friends seeking divine intervention in their daily mundane routines.
A weekend trip to Kerala beckoned and it had all the likely sighting spots conveniently ticked off. The largest city in Kerala, the famous backwaters, a houseboat ride, an unplanned halt at a toddy shop (maybe not quite the best spot for a goddess to appear), temples and last but not the least - a traditional Malayali Nair wedding. I was quietly confident that this trip to Kerala should help me see the Goddess in all her glory. My trips to Kerala in the more recent past has been restricted to jaunts in forests, where one finds it hard to spot tigers and other animals. Forget goddesses.
The search started off on an auspicious enough note - Ambalapuzha Temple. The temple had enough and more to keep a tourist interested. Traditional architecture and truck loads of legends and myths associated with it. A poet who changed the course of Malayalam literature and culture. A legendary Payasam, which suppposedly - as most of these legends tend to be - tasted a lot better and cost a lot lesser when my parents were my age. Nothing tastes better than nostalgia.
The temple even has a rather auspicious annual food fight. One of those days many years back, the lord decided to leave his sanctum and start serving food to the people in the dining hall of the temple. When someone spotted the God (a version of Krishna) serving he started chasing him. This led to much chaos in the dining hall and in order to keep that memory alive they decided to have an annual food fight. (Watch from 1:50 of the video below to see what I mean)
Note to self - Make sure to try to come to the temple in the night the next time around. The view of the temple from across the temple tank is brilliant. The vision of the temple's reflection on the water body, all lit up with oil wicks, should be a sight worth seeing.
Temple visit check. No divine sightings. No complaints. There has to be a goddess in the backwaters. A mermaid to attract the tourists. There has to be. Right? Wrong. What there is though is houseboats. A whole bloody lot of them. I am certain that the below image has been photo-shopped brilliantly and the 10 other boats have been removed with studied expertise!
But the area is beautiful. Allepey-Kuttanad-Cochin, the entire stretch of backwaters is well, for the lack of a better word, beautiful! National Geographic, I am fairly certain, has better coverage given to the backwaters of Kerala so i just decide to continue my search for my goddess. But the boat man decides to halt at a small little Devi temple instead and I get this sneaky suspicion that the boat man is a cynical mind reader!
The Devi in the temple has got herself a great view of the backwaters and her back is to a sprawling cultivation of paddy. Such agriculture, I am told, is extremely hard given the excess water and its saline content. The native Malayali, proud of his literate self, mentions in pride that such agriculture is a rarity in the world and its only in Netherlands one would see its likes.
Note to self - check out more than just the agriculture if you ever happen to go to Holland!
The houseboat ride comes with traditional Kerala cuisine. Fish curry and Kappa, Karimeen Porichathu, Avial, red rice, chicken curry and a whole lot more. But we still weren't satiated and this idyllic toddy shop beckoned. The shop, or 'shaapu' as the native speaker refers to it, has a picture perfect location. The toddy tastes like a sweet lassi gone bad but the food that accompanies it is as fresh as fresh can be. Mussels stir fried with an extraordinarily generous amount of red chilli powder, coconut and shallots. Prawns that are so fresh that you can taste the happiness that they felt while crawling around in the depths of the backwaters an hour back. In god's own country, the non-vegetarian's idea of heaven is just a toddy shop away.
Weddings could and should be filled with goddesses. But that only happens when the wedding is not happening in your family. Which, in my humble opinion, is a good thing. One wouldn't want to be appreciating (or ogling, call it what you may) the divine beauty of some distant cousin you last saw as a 7 year old in pink frocks some 15 years back.
The rest of the trip was time spent with family and it struck me that the entire itinerary was wrong. The next time I am in Kerala the trip should begin with an extensive and exhaustive lunch at a toddy shop!