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This morning we join our group in the lobby and head out of town to visit a bharatnatyam dance school. This traditional dance form was used in temples to praise the gods. Large temples would have hundreds of dancers trained in the art. These days the skills is practices more for tourists, but fortunately is being kept alive.
The women learning the dance now are largely from well-off families, and they commit to a multi-year course to become expert. Each of the cottages on the property house classes - some on footwork, some on pieces of a dance, some on music. During our trip we are able to see several performances, it is much more interesting with the background of the dance training.
Back in town, we visit a small Chola Shiva temple in Mylapore, our first in a series of Shiva temples of this era. This one is comparatively small, but gives us a good starting point on the construction and layout. One of the treats of temple visiting is wandering the streets around the temple, invariably crowded markets packed with people. Hinduism is a way of life as much as a religion, which is reflected in the integral nature of the temples into the town and daily activities....the trumpet player has a skill level normally seen only in truly inferior Salvation Army bands...
The government museum in Chennai houses a fabulous collection of Chola-era bronzes from around South India. These masterpieces adorned temples, but were hidden away when war swept through. Some were returned to use, others were discovered later and are now artifacts. The bronzes date from as far back as the 9th century, and through the full 500+ years represented, the style and artistry is remarkably consistent. All are cast using the "lost wax" method, an ancient, painstaking process still used today by some artisans.
Back at the hotel as we pack, we discover that the Gideons have struck even in India. They have competition, however. The bottom drawer of the chest in our room contains quite a selection of potential tomes to worship - the Gita, the Koran, the Bible, and the yellow pages.
Christmas is celebrated as a secular holiday throughout India, as shown in lights and decorations on trees everywhere you go. The hotel lobby has a somewhat sad-looking pine-ish tree, and they are advertising their Christmas brunch (with a visit from Santa!). Although it's a few days yet, we do not escape. Just as we sit down to dinner, we are told that the carol singers will be starting soon, and would we care to join? We opt for a thali and keeping the door to the lobby closed, but even so the periodic strains of Silent Night attack. Given the trumpet player has a skill level normally seen only in truly inferior Salvation Army bands, even this much proximity is regrettable.