The God was ready for his night of conjugal bliss. The priests of the temple, muscular, shirtless men with white sarongs wrapped around their thighs, bore the god’s palanquin on their shoulders. They marched him slowly along a stone corridor shrouded in shadows to his consort’s shrine. Drumbeats echoed along the walls. Candles flickered outside the doorway to the shrine’s inner sanctum. There, Meenakshi, the fish-eyed goddess, awaited the embrace of her husband, Sundareshwarar, an incarnation of that most priapic of Indian gods, Shiva.
Along with hundreds of Indians clustered around the shrine entrance, I strained to get a glimpse of the statue of Sundareshwarar, but green cloths draped over the palanquin kept it hidden. Worshipers surged forward in mass delirium, snapping photos with their cellphones, bowing to the palanquin and chanting hymns. They stretched out their hands to touch the carriage. Priests ordered them back. Then the priests veered into the inner sanctum, carrying the unseen god toward the eager arms of his wife. They too had a night of divine pleasure ahead of them, so we were all ushered out as the guards began locking up. This union of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar is a nightly ritual in Madurai, the largest city in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, drawing feverish crowds of Hindu devotees.
In much of India, the Gods are not creatures of distantmyth to be worshiped as abstractions. They exist in our world, in our time, and are fully integrated into the daily ives of Hindu believers. They move simultaneously through the world of the divine and the world that we inhabit, and are subject to all the emotions and experiences that we humans are all too familiar with — including carnal desire.
Read the full articles on the Website of the NYT. Photos by James Estrin/NYT