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I now know why Kerala is thought to be the land of the gods.

In Trivandrum, God and spirituality are everywhere.

In every direction on every street, Hindu temples, mosques and churches intersect and proudly boast their path to God.

There isn't a street we passed yesterday that didn't display the practice of religion, and the people walking down the street are like billboards of faith.

Hindus especially wear their religion, marking dashes of colors on their foreheads indicating faith, marriage and devotion to God. 

Hindu temples, large and small, are erected next to and on top of commercial buildings as well as in the middle of the roadways.

"That's why we can't widen this road," said our tour guide Miriam, who is also a Rotary GSE selectee picked to travel to Texas with her team in May. "Because the temples are there in the middle of the road, they can't widen the roads."

Road-widening would be helpful in Kerala, as driving down the streets is as close to a near-death experience as I've ever encountered.

As we approached downtown Trivandrum, Miriam pointed out that a large mosque, Catholic church and Hindu temple were erected within a few feet of each other.

I asked her about the tensions between religions here, and she said Kerala didn't experience much religious discord.

She admitted there is some tension sometimes between Protestants and Orthodox Christians, but in general, religious diversity is well embraced.

Sree_Temple

In the northern part of the country, however, much tension exists between Muslims and Hindus. Miriam is an Orthodox Christian, and I was fascinated to learn that the Christian group (which makes up about 20 percent of Kerala, India's population) is comprised mostly of generations-old Christians, rather than Christian converts (from the work of American/European missionaries) as I originally anticipated.  

The Orthodox Christians I've met are well informed about their faith and claim the faith was originally introduced to India by "the doubter" himself, St. Thomas, of the Bible, during the first century. Miriam said her church draws its theology from the teachings of Biblical, Syrian antiquity. She also mentioned because the group is so small, its followers will only marry within the circle of Orthodox believers. 

She drove our group last night to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, one of the city's oldest Hindu temples.

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple

It made history recently when archaeologists discovered that inside the ancient vaults was more than $22 billion in gold and precious stones hiding in secret.

After a full inquest, the temple is now considered one one of the world's richest. Imagine, a city was sitting on billions in gold for centuries and had no idea.

Sadly, we were denied entrance to the temple because we were foreigners, but we did spend some time at the base of the building staring at the structure's massive hand-carved stone pyramid of Hindu gods.

It must have taken many hands and many years to finish such a temple. student

Later in the evening, we were invited as special guests to the annual Kerala student performing arts outdoor assembly, where we saw hundreds of costumed and colorfully painted children sing and dance for a crowd of about 1,000 people.

They depicted cultures and languages and songs from all over the world, and I was impressed with their worldliness and language skills. 

I even met a young girl dressed like a Texas cowgirl. She was so excited, as many of the children were, to meet a team of American Texans. I hope we can continue to meet such beautiful, smiling faces.

Until Tomorrow, Victoria.

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