My first visit to a South Indian Temple

Yesterday we went to a large South Indian temple.  It was the first time I’d been to a South Indian temple.  The first thing that sticks out most in my mind is that the temple did have the feeling of the holy and the sacred.  I wasn’t sure I’d feel that as my grasp of Hinduism is tenuous at the moment and because not all churches even give me that feeling.  My second reaction is admiration of how well-run it is, how people are pleasant, and how beautiful it is.


Below is a more detailed account:


We arrived in the rear of the temple.  The parking spaces closest to the door are reserved for handicapped people and for temple volunteers.  There are many volunteers.  As we approached the door, there were signs reminding people that the walkway is not a play area.  The first thing I worried about was my shoes.  I was searching for a place to take them off as wearing shoes is a taboo in the house, especially in front of home altars, and even more so for temples.  There was a smiling priest near the entrance who gestured for us to continue inside to find a place to take off our shoes.  We walked around the lower level of the temple passing the gift shop and went around to where we could take our coats off.  Then, we walked some more and found the room to take off our shoes.  Most people also took off their socks too which surprised me a little. 


Next, we saw the washing station.  It is two low faucets that are motion activated.  There is a sign reminding people to wash their hands and feet.  Then we left that room and climbed the stairs to the holy part of the temple.  Right at the entrance to the that part is a place where people can purchase the things they need (like flowers, for example) to do their pujas.


Finally, we entered the prayer area.  This was a large area with small altars to many different gods.  Each god or goddess was lovingly dressed.  Even the linga which is Shiva was dressed with cloth wrapped around it.  Lingas are stones in the shape of cylinders, they are not in human shape so it surprised me that had cloth wrapped around it. Satya says that every day before the temple is opened that they are washed and dressed.  Each altar is based on a design from a temple in India.  Satya liked to point out which aspects were from Karnataka.  Each altar is labeled with the name(s) of the god(s) or goddess(es).   Around the room were religious sayings carved into the wall stones.  The sayings were written first in Hindi or Sanskrit and below had an English translation.  Each altar had a large box beside it labeled “Hundi”.  People can put their monetary offerings into the boxes.  Some of the altars had plates with red powder.  People can anoint their foreheads or necks with the powder.


We walked around to each altar and said a short prayer at each.  Some of the gods and goddesses were familiar to me like Ganesha, Shiva and some were unfamiliar like Ambika or the 9 that represent different parts of the day (some of the 9 are benevolent and you pray for their help and some are not, so you pray that they leave you alone).


Then, we stood in line for a blessing from the priests.  In the middle of the room is a much larger altar with a very large god inside.  The god is covered in flowers and dressed.  There is a priest who stands inside chanting.  Outside, people stand.  People join in the crowd at any time, it isn’t necessary to be present for the whole ritual.  It reminded me of a Greek Orthodox service in that way-people come and go, but towards the end many people are there.  At the end, one priest walks in the middle holding the plate with the lamp.  People hold their hands over the flame and then bring their hands to their forehead.  Some also bring their hands to their forehead and then over their heads as if they are washing themselves.  People can leave monetary offerings on the plate. 


Next, two more priests come around.  One holds a hat-shaped object.  To get this blessing, you bow your head and the priest will put it on your head for a second or two.  There is also a priest who will put a juice or oil (coconut, I think) into your hand.  For this, Satya told me to hold my hands like for Catholic communion-cupped with the right hand over the left.  The priest will put the juice or oil into the right palm.  Then, you are to drink it.  Anything leftover you put into your hair instead of rubbing into the left hand or rubbing it off on your clothes.  Finally, a priest came around with a spoon and put a spoonful of raisins into everyone’s hand.  Satya was disappointed that none of the priests offered us flowers.  He said that sometimes the priests will gather the flowers that fall from the gods or goddesses and give them to the waiting people.  After the raisins, the ceremony was over and everyone dispersed.


We sat on the floor for a while praying and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.  Satya told me that in some old temples in India there are checker or chessboards carved into the floors.  Temples used to be community gathering places where people would relax with their friends and play games in addition to praying.  There were others sitting on the floor too.  At the back there were a few folding chairs. 


I enjoyed looking at the people.  The little girls were very cute.  Small baby girls wear little anklets with bells on them.  Older girls wear long, brightly colored dresses and tops or tunics and leggings like salwar kameezes.  Most young girls don’t wear sarees. One young girl had white flowers strung into her ponytail.  It is very traditional in South India for girls and women to have white flowers, usually jasmine, in their hair. Boys do not wear traditional clothing.  Some women wore sarees or tunics but many also wore regular sweaters and jeans.  The priests wore traditional clothing, but the men did not.


Some families performed special pujas.  One family we saw sat on the ground on a narrow red rug.  It looked like there were parents, grandparents, and small kids.  A priest sat in front of them chanting prayers.  Near another altar was an area where people could smash coconuts.  Coconuts are often used in South Indian ceremonies.


I liked the atmosphere of the temple and how relaxed it was.  Everyone was intent on their own prayers-some walking around and praying.  Others sitting on the ground and praying or quietly chatting with friends and family.  Some prostrated themselves in front of a particular altar. 


I enjoyed seeing the families together.  Grandparents would show their grandchildren what to do.  I like how participatory many rituals are.  Kids can help break coconuts and put flowers on the altars. 


We hope to visit more.  Satya hadn’t been there for three or four years.  We hope to go once or twice a month.  It is a long drive for us-over an hour each way, but we thought that it was worth the drive.  


My next entry will be about the temple cafeteria and gift shop.

Mixed Matches, Chapter 2

The next chapter of “Mixed Matches” focused on why a person chooses to be in a mixed match. The author’s idea is that sometimes people do not feel comfortable in their culture/family of origin.  They seek out relationships with people in cultures different from their own so they can experience what they think they are missing and create more balance.  For example, someone from a subdued culture might be intrigued by more expressive cultures and seek out relationships with people from expressive cultures.  The danger though, is that the very differences that drew people towards each other can also divide them later on after they have to live with their partner’s quirks day in and day out.  The author wants each partner to be aware of stereotypes they may carry about their partner’s culture/family of origin and to proactively discuss differences before they cause major difficulties.


At the end of the chapter, there are exercises to do.  Each partner has to discuss how they view and experience sex roles, religion, etc in their own family and in their partner’s family.  We did these out loud instead of writing down our responses.  I still don’t have any easy answer about what makes me an American of mixed Swedish-Slovenian-Swiss heritage.  Satya doesn’t know what makes him an Indian. 


So far, we didn’t discover any earth-shattering truths or huge roadblocks.  Both of us come from very practical, religious, quiet, close families.  Surprisingly, in some my family is more conservative and authoritarian than his-for example, everyone was required to go to church once a week, my siblings and I underwent the full Catholic initiation.  His family left religion up to personal choice, but both of his parents are firm believers.  Both of us had fathers that worked full-time and mothers that were homemakers and caregivers most of the time.


Both of us were willing to date outside of our cultures.  I had always been intrigued by India, but from a distance.  Satya was only the second Indian man I ever went on a date with.  I’d gone out on dates with a variety of others.  Satya had gone on dates with Chinese-Americans, Indians, and Caucasians.  


Before I met Satya, I just had a superficial appreciation of India.  I liked the music, movies, colors, food although I didn’t know much about it and most of what I did applied more to North Indian culture than to Southern Indian culture.  The close family relationships seemed familiar.  The rituals seemed fascinating.  The gods and goddesses seem similar to Catholic saints.  I guess you could say I had positive stereotypes about India before I met Satya and even now before I’ve been to India.


For those in mixed relationships, what did you know or believe about your partner’s culture before you started dating your partner?  What major cultural differences have you encountered?

Intercultural Dating, Part One

I did not intentionally set out to date an Indian.  Most people in mixed relationships say they did not plan on marrying outside their group.  Both of us were looking outside our cultures due to location.  I did not meet any other Scandinavian American Catholics on the East Coast.  If Satya had stayed in India, he most likely would have married another Lingayat.


Below, is my dating advice and links to a few helpful resources.  Most of it applies to dating in general. I will write a future post about some of the specific challenges we’ve faced as a mixed couple.


 Be Open

At first you need to be open to know what you like, what you don’t, and what you can tolerate.  This requires you to meet different people.  One book that explains this well is “How to Get a Date Worth Keeping” by Dr. Henry Cloud.


Neither Dr. Henry Cloud nor I recommend having a lot of relationships, but I am recommending going out on dates (just dinner or coffee) with a variety of people and getting to know them.  Of course, use your common sense.  If someone is dangerous or just seems “creepy”, just say no.


This also means that when you are on a date with someone, listen to them.  Don’t just talk about yourself and don’t judge people without listening first.


Have a Checklist

In my head, I had a generic checklist of qualities I was looking for: kind, intelligent, tall, non-smoker, no drugs, responsible, somebody with similar interests, etc. 


Satya’s list was a bit different.  He had some disastrous dates with Indians so he was mostly looking outside his culture.  He had some quirky (in my personal opinion) requirements.  One of them was that he wasn’t interested in dating someone in his same field.  His reasoning is that if the economy goes bad, the chances of both being out of work at the same time are decreased.


One book that advocates this is Neil Clark Warren’s book “Date…or Soul Mate?  How to Know if Someone is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less” His major piece of advice is to write down what qualities you desire in a partner.  He calls these the “Must Haves”.  Then, when you meet someone, listen to them carefully to try to discern if they have those qualities.  Even if only one or two are missing, discontinue the romantic relationship because that mismatch will just build a greater divide over time.


It may take more than two dates to decide if you’d like to persue a romantic relationship with someone.  That’s ok.  The point is not to compromise on things that you believe are important. 


Be Honest

Satya and I met each other when we both were nearly burned out of dating.  The hidden benefit of this was that we both decided we were tired of playing games and we both decided to be honest.  I think this is why people often say that you meet somebody when you aren’t looking…it is because you are honest. 


What does this mean?  First off, don’t lie.  If you don’t like something, say so.  I decided not to continue dating a man whose passion was baseball.  Baseball to me is one of the most boring things in the world.  I just couldn’t envision myself by his side at the baseball stadium.  Hopefully, he has found a woman who can share that passion.


Secondly, be honest about what you are looking for.  If you are interested in meeting lots of different people, say that.  If you are searching for a marriage partner, say that.  If you don’t know, say that.  Satya and I decided individually we were ready to marry and were looking for that type of relationship. 

       Be Strong

Dating is tough.  It is tough to go through the roller coaster of emotions and to keep your optimism and hope.  One of the books that helped me put dating in a better perspective is, “It’s not you, It’s him” by Georgia Whitkin, Ph.D.  If things do not turn out how you’d like, remember this.  Hopefully, in the future you will find someone.


This book does have some controversy.  Some people who read the book believe the author is advocating that women should be extremely demanding.  This isn’t the message I took from the book. 


The main message I took away from the book is remember, if things don’t work out, it isn’t always your fault.  I do think that women do take relationships too seriously and blame themselves needlessly.  Some relationships just weren’t meant to be.


Give everything your best shot, learn as much as you can, and then move on.



Dating is tough, don’t let anyone tell you different.  Hopefully, someday you will find your match and grow a lot in the process.