Adventures in Madurai (episode: Baby Bus)

Good evening (in India of course) to all of our family and friends back home! This is Garrett Painter and Sarah Wells providing you with this awesome joint blog, so prepare yourselves to be blown away. We will be covering the past two days of our journey here in India, and we hope that you enjoy all we have to tell you.

On the 12th, we woke up early and had our usual breakfast of idli, sambar, chutney, and freshly squeezed juice. From there, we loaded on to our buses (and fought over who got the baby bus), and we traveled to Raffic Ahamed’s house. He is an old friend of Dr. Allocco, and an amazing collage artist. He incorporates his Muslim religious beliefs along with social commentary into his works of art.

We began the visit with Shamsher, Raffic’s friend and a well-known religious figure in the area, speaking to us about Muslim faith and Islamic traditions in Tamil Nadu. He started with telling us that “Salam” is the root word of “Islam” and means “peace”. Through this, he explained that Islam is based off harmony. Students felt free to ask questions of Shamsher and discuss various versus from the Bible and the Qur’an.

He also drew several parallels between Islam and Christianity. For example, Muslims actually do believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they do not believe that he is God incarnate. Instead, they believe he is a messenger who was brought forth through immaculate conception and did all he did only with the power of God. Also, Muslims, along with Christians and Jews, are monotheistic. Together, these three faiths actually comprise the three major monotheistic religions in the world. Furthermore, he talked about how Islam has a lack of imagery since no image should be worshiped, only Allah. Obviously, this is quite different from Hinduism. We were all pleasantly surprised to discover that Hindus and Muslims actually coexist extremely well in India.

However, one of the most interesting tidbits that we learned about was that many Muslimfamilies travel to visit other Muslim communities across the world to explain what being a Muslim truly means. Raffic’s family actually traveled to Australia for this purpose. They do this because they do not believe that they can spread their faith until their own is not lacking in other areas. They wish to change the image of Islam, and make sure that people do not automatically think of terrorism, which actually goes against the ideal of peace, when people across the world think of Muslims.

From that point, we had the chance to visit a mosque in the community, and watch the members of the mosque pray. We then went back to Raffic’s house, where they fed us absolutely delicious food for lunch, which included a selection of food influenced by Islamic heritage. After that, we got to view some of Raffic’s art, and several students, such as Alannah, Lauren, and Kelsie, purchased one of his collages. After this great visit, we left Raffic’s home by bus and came back to the hotel. We had a bit of free time, and then had dinner at a gorgeous hotel that overlooks Madurai. It was the perfect ending to the night.

The next morning we woke up early to travel by bus to the Sacred Grove.  Kegan’s paper informed us of the Grove’s history, a place of sacrality derived from mythology and Sanskrit literature.  In the midst of the grove stands a large tree, found by cows let free to roam, and symbolizes Ayyappa; the god of the forest.

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Dr. V (a PHD who surprised us with his youthful candor as an 80 year old man) led us through the divine area, sharing stories about the forest and devotees of Ayyappa whom left the area after the water supply dried up. We saw the last of the water, a small pond contrasting the once large lake, the new home to a four lane rode being constructed by the Indian government.  Students waded knee deep in the water, threw it to the sky, and prayed for the people to have rain.

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After the Grove, we traveled to a hilltop fort dedicated to a local chieftain.  Students enjoyed running up and down the stone hills and viewing some of Tamil Nadu’s beautiful landscape.

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After returning to the city of Madurai, we attended a local music and dance festival provided by a University.  We sat, giggled, and nodded to the drum beats as the performers provided the night’s entertainment.  After the show, we were gifted a special treat of festival foods, which we scarfed after a long day.  Lavanya (one of our guides), Allison, and I (Sarah) enjoyed chatting about our favorite American movies like “She’s the Man” and “Step up,” basically anything with Channing Tatum.

Now, we are preparing to leave Madurai in the morning. Tomorrow, you will hear from Jay about today’s adventures. We have all enjoyed our time in this city, but we are excited to get on the bus for our next destination.

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