Journal -- Day 5

December 23rd

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We see an entire truck packed tightly with bewildered bullocks...

We wake up early this morning for a flight to Trichy and then a drive which will then take us to the Chola capital of Thanjavur (Tanjore). The departures hall is rather larger and cleaner than the norm, and once I figure out the signs in the bathroom (IWC and EWC are important distinctions), it's a comfortable wait. Air India is very efficient. There's a minor maintenance problem on our flight that they fix quickly and with many apologies. Then they serve food on a flight of only 30 minutes. Quite a contrast from US carriers.

From Trichy we board a bus to drive to Thanjavur some 90 minutes away. We pass cashew plantations and small farms, and fortunately get to stop for fresh roasted cashews, bajis, and other street food to make a wonderful lunch. You may have heard that in India the cows roam freely, which is true, but at least some of the time they are moved by other means. We see an entire truck packed tightly with bewildered bullocks, their horns tied together so they faced out curiously. Every truck in India has a unique horn that it uses constantly, but we thought this was rather excessive. (*drum sting*)

The main sight in Thanjavur is the Brihadishwara temple. We are fortunate that today there is a minor function in progress, bringing many people to the temple in the afternoon. The ceremony involves washing Nandi, the bull who protects each Shiva shrine. By way of a large scaffolding, men pour buckets of water, milk, and something yellowish in turn over Nandi. Music and chanting accompany them. Much of the time they work without a large audience, but toward the end people gather in the open square between Nandi and the Shiva temple to observe. Apparently this ceremony takes place roughly every fortnight at this temple, more or less as often as at others. Some of the milk is collected and given to the sponsor for luck.

The temple itself is a large open courtyard with several shrines in the center. The walls are lined with painting from various myths and tales. Small buildings housing related shrines scatter the open space. This site is not painted as most are, as it is a UN Historical Site and therefore protected. Most temples are plastered and brightly painted to bring out the carving.

This evening we are treated to an excellent performance of temple dance in our hotel courtyard. The music is repetitive - in essence scales - but the dance is diverse and intricate. The rhythms created by the precise footwork are fascinating and provide much of the tone for the movements.

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