Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Poonal At Melkote

A bit delayed but never late than better as they say! After a huge uproar from the family frontlines on not getting to it and penning down the series of insignificant events that transpired during the significant occasion of the poonal, I have embarked on that slippery slope that is boat-full of trials & tribulations. Phew! 44 words in that sentence. Was actually trying to get to 50 but thought there should be a semblance of meaning to the diatribe so stopped when the going was good.

For those who are agog with curiosity and sitting at the edge of their seats wondering what the hell a poonal is, here goes – Poonal is the thread ceremony for adolescent boys in Brahmin families where they go through a day and half of frenetic pujas and rituals essentially transforming the unfortunate soul into manhood. A big event and as the boys’ side hardly do anything for their weddings (I mean the actual wedding ceremony before you all get your panties in a knot), the poonal takes on an all important significance as ‘THE’ event of the family!

Okay! Now, that the background is all there, allow me to indulge myself as I going into excruciating detail of everything that is not related to the actual poonal ceremony.

Departure from Bangalore, amidst much fanfare and hoopla was at 8:30 a.m. bang on schedule, a never before seen feat in our family. As is wont, breakneck speed from our car saw us reach Shivalli in an hour. Alright! We shall talk about Shivalli now!!

The wayside restaurant is roughly 60 km from Bangalore. The long cone frustum like idli (Kadabu idli) is the magnum opus here. An excellent place for South Indian vegetarian food, pretty much anything on the menus is delicious and the service is great. However, when a family pack of wolves descend on this august establishment, all hell breaks loose. Our tentative and refined ordering started with 25 masala dosas, 16 khara bhaats, a few Kesari Bhaats for thrown in for good measure and some other goodies that might feel bad for being left out. A look of terror flashed over the helpless waiter’s face but he was up to it and soon the Wolfgang Pack was digging in lustily. The first wave done, we were now ready to wash it down. Coffee and tea orders poured in thick and fast. And of course, there were customized orders too; no sugar, less sugar, less milk, more milk, I could go on.

Our feasting done in a new family record time (1 hr 17 mins flat), we set off once more towards our goal – Melkote. Enroute, I decided to have a futile race with a red Honda CRV and that battle was lost before it began. At Mandya, about 100 km from Bangalore, we took the deviation to Melkote. Here, we embarked on another speed racing adventure, this time with one of the family vehicles, a Tata Sumo. This match-up was to my liking and I drove like a maniac to ensure victory at the post (0 Km milestone in Melkote).

The temple town of Melkote is a huge sprawling metropolis of bars, pubs, discotheques and multi-storey office buildings. The suave and sophisticated citizens party all day and night and it’s a truly happening city.

Okay! Okay! I exaggerate a trifle. The road to this place actually ends in Melkote. Two temples, one on a rocky hill and one where the road terminates are all that this village has to offer. Chock full of Iyengars and priests, Melkote is a charming hamlet with scorching temperatures and nothing else.

As our retinue arrived, it was clear that this was the most happening event this town had witnessed since the temple was built in 1000 AD. Not the quietest of families, we soon made our presence felt in no uncertain terms.

The first ceremony in the evening saw the family attending in full force and other than the participants (my nephew, my cousin and his wife), no one really was into the intricate rituals that pervaded the big hall. We had other immediate concerns – you guessed it – FOOD! And how!! Starting from lunch, we pretty much stuffed our faces for 36 hours starting with the unbridled mayhem at Shivalli.

I know you’re all biting your teeth in excitement with the narrative thus far so am going to kick it up a notch now. Ready? No?? Well, I’m going with it anyway…

One of my nephews, a true Cassanova, was in his elements during this trip. The best part was that he didn’t even have to lift a finger. A distant relative ( a girl), whom for the sake of this public forum posting, I shall not name, was drawn to my nephew like bees to honey. Starting from the Saturday afternoon when my erudite nephew landed up, until the time we left on Sunday evening, she was Velcro to him. Every meal and every instance saw them together and she constantly went out of her way to ensure she was positioned next to him in any situation or family formation. While a source of immense mirth to the rest of us (not to mention a little insane jealousy by us guys that this fellow was eye candy in a temple town), it caused great discomfiture to my nephew. Heeheeheehee!!. At one point, when we were sitting for breakfast in the usual set-up i.e. my nephew and the girl next to each other, all I had to do was send a text message to another nephew in the adjacent hall to come check out the seating arrangement. Half a second later, he appears with a video camera to film the proceedings in an understated fashion. Our family is good! We also managed to provoke a Sivaji Ganesan like outburst from my nephew when confronted with some hard facts! I will not go into the entrails of this.

Sunday morning saw a few of us climb the rocky steps to the temple on the hill. Yoganarasimha is the god on top and ascending the 365 steeply inclined steps was hard work. Strangely, the deity himself resides on the side and not in the entrance and once inside, the place suddenly turns into a mass of sweating devotees pushing and shoving and making it very obvious as to why Yoganarasimha has a bewildered look on his pristine countenance.

That aspect of our religious duties done and having successfully but inadvertently eluded the core of the poonal ceremony, we returned to a sumptuous meal with the usual lunch-time seating regimen.

We finally departed from Melkote, stomachs sated, and content (of course my nephew was sated in other ways, dang it!!) in mind and body but never the worse for wear. A well spent weekend among gods and traditional brahmin rites, the extended time with the family was priceless and reinforces our decision to move back to India. Looking forward to the next big trip!

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