A Staff Postcard from the Field: Bollywood by the Beach

Bollywood by the Beach
Notes from South India from Marilyn Downing Staff, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Founder and President

Bollywood, South India

Bollywood, South India

It doesn’t take much to draw a crowd in India, and when a gathering occurs, like a moth to a flame, I too am drawn.  Some of my best moments during my travels in India have come from joining in. What ever has captured their interest, usually captures mine as well. So I found the crowd gathered on the beach at Pondicherry irresistible. I was rewarded by a full Bollywood shoot.  A camera boom with full crew were filming male dancers, dressed in black in the sweltering midday tropical heat.  They were going through a dance routine with full athletic rigor, as only Bollywood can.  The non-dancing star, who they surrounded, was a portly middle aged man with a pouf-do that required constant attention from his stylist.  Music, action, cut.  Music, action, cut.  Time and again they filmed the scene. Time and again they ‘cut’ and shot again to achieve utter perfection in the dance moves.  The crowd grew and before long there were a coterie of vendors making the most of the opportunity – ice cream, snacks, toys for the children-a spontaneous happening that made our day.

Pondicherry, the old French colonial capital, is about 120 miles south of Chennai, India. Learn more about travel in South India.

A Staff Postcard from the Field: South India

Temple of the Sky
Notes from South India from Marilyn Downing Staff, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Founder and President

Gate of India, Mumbai India

Travel to South India

Chedambaram Temple at sunset is like no other. Devotees of the Hindu god Shiva scurry barefoot through the gates, children in tow, colorfully clad in their best saris and dhoti. They approach the alter for a sunset glimpse of this most sacred bronze figure of Shiva in his Nataraj phase, doing the cosmic dance of life.  Shiva, the great god of destruction, is also the embodiment of creation and thus must be paid his due to keep the universe in balance.  The object of their devotion, the bronze Nataraj image, circled with a flaming ring, has Shiva’s four arms aloft, each carrying a symbolic item or gesture, his right leg subduing the demon of ignorance and his left lifted high in a graceful, powerful pose, is a familiar Hindu icon.  When understood, the sculpture offers the beholder an illustrated reminder for life – power, grace, compassion, enlightenment – ideal human qualities.   Seen anywhere it evokes emotion, but seen at Chedambaram it carries its full sacred impact. As the smoke from  hundreds of oil lamps illuminate the 2,000 year old exquisitely carved granite pillars, the bare-chested Braham priests, clad in their flowing white dhotis, top-knotted hair cuts and white forehead paint, rush forward toward the image carrying torches of cleansing fire.  Devotees press closer to get a glimpse of the image being purified, as to lay eyes on such a moment is to purify the beholder.  When finished, the priests, spent  and drenched with sweat from the intense heat, move away, leaving the devotees to pray and ponder the spiritual moment.

Chedambaram is one of the five ancient Dravidian temples in South India.  Each one dedicated to one of the five elements, this one is symbolic of the sky.  Located in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, about 50 miles south of Pondicherry, the old French colonial capital, it can be easily reached by car.

I recommend that anyone who has an opportunity to travel to India, makes an effort to visit the Temple of the Sky.