Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


Shoreside Temples

By Esther Cha

Full of brilliant colors, cacophonous sounds, tasty curries and sometimes (re-)pungent smells, India was a shock to my senses. From the rickshaw drivers that seemed to have happy tendencies to drive on the wrong side of the road instead of remaining within their own lanes to the intricately carved temples, India hit me hard.

I went to Malaapurum (the Shore Temple) right on the outskirts of Chennai and the intricate relief carvings that adorned the temples were abundant with history and contributed greatly to the physical presence of this edifice. There were many tourists (including Indian tourists) in and around this Hindu temple at Malaapurum. In “Modernities Remade: Hindu Temples and Their Publics in Southern India” by Mary E. Hancock, she discusses how the Hindu temples of India are generally viewed in the transnational context.

According to this article Hindu temples are sites at which “pasts are imagined, encountered, and deployed in various ways.” Today Hinduism remains alive in these temples through bodily practices, prayers, mythic narratives, and iconic images that serve as media for the “vernacular expressions of modernity.” The physical locations of the temples are basically “imagined and enacted social spaces” of a religious institution where not all ideological claims are held true by all visitors. Tourists from all over the world were pilgrims at this site and sure enough there were devout Hindus also making their voyage to the site. Even though not everyone visited this site as a religious pilgrim, the diverse crowd with his or her own agendas got along well.

Today these Hindu temples are “a stage for nationalistic claims, consumer tourist discourses, and nostalgia-infused emblems of Indian ‘traditions.’” Competing visions of “modernity and publicity” and of what the temples stand for today don’t really seem to faze the visitors. Whether or not a Hindu disciple, I was able to meet and have a lovely conversation with one Hindu lady, who happened to visit on the same day that I did and we enjoyed this temple site at Malaapurum together.

Return to course home page