A few days after my last post, Huggie decided to join up with her sister, who is vacationing in Thailand. It was a good opportunity for them and it happened fast. Before you could blink, Huggie was booked on a flight from Kochi to Chiang Mai. Our plan is to meet up on March 4th in Varanasi, before flying home on March 7th.
I headed inland to Parassinikkadavu to see a theyyem. A theyyem is a spirit-possession ceremony held only in northern Kerala at various village shrines and is quite the event. According to Hindu belief, during a theyyem, the performer doesn’t just impersonate a deity, he actually becomes the deity and acquires their magical powers. I arrived to find that absolutely no one would rent a reasonably priced room to a single, unaccompanied woman. There was nothing to be done but enjoy the evening ritual and deal with where to sleep afterwards.
The golden shrine was illuminated by hundreds of candles on bronze tiers. A series of drums started to beat loudly. The deity emerged from the shrine wearing an elaborate and enormous headdress and mask with showy jewelry and costume to match. The dancing started out gentle and rhythmic with a lot of complex hand motions. As the ceremony unfolded, the dancing became more frenzied, until the final crescendo a couple of hours later, when He seemed to have a sort of seizure. Like moths to a flame, people leaned their heads inward hoping to be touched by the Divine. The extraordinary experience was made even more memorable by the night that followed.
I was the only non-Indian face among the Hindu pilgrims and was sitting beside a beautiful teenaged girl named Pravda. She could speak a little English but her sister, mother and grandmother, with whom she was sitting, could speak none. They invited me to join them for rice with curried vegetable broth, the dinner that is offered to everybody, after the ceremony. During dinner they invited me to join them in the pilgrim’s sleeping room (her father and brothers were on the men’s side). I felt very fortunate, not only for the authentic opportunity, but also, for the secure place to sleep.
It was a large open space with woven bamboo beach mats on a concrete floor and everybody just found a spot and stretched out. I posed for no less than 25 pictures with various women and children. We all slept until 4 am when it was time for morning ablutions.
I enjoyed being cocooned under the protective wings of my new friends. Pravda invited me to her wedding in their village on March 4th and I would have loved to go but I am due in Varanasi that day. When they asked where I was headed next, I told them that I wanted to go to a small coastal town from where I could then walk overland from village to village. I’m not sure they understood. In any case, they started their journey home with a predawn boat trip and I followed along. I was still with them two bus rides later, uncertain of where I would end up. At one of the bus stops, Pravda explained that her mom had her menses and we all created a shield of sisterhood while her giggling mama changed her rag. Literally. It made me think about the things that we take for granted!
In the town of Vatakara, they indicated that I should stay while they continued on and it was exactly what I was looking for. I found a hospital for my third rabies shot (which I received in both arms) and then found a coastal trail.
I have been hiking next to the Arabian Sea for three days now and it is beautiful, easy, and dotted with fishing villages. I am often invited in for food while the local grapevine notifies the rest of the village that I am there and they all come.
I play with the kids for a bit before venturing back into the 35 degree heat. When asked where I am going, I reply, “north”. There are no guest houses here. Last night I slept on another concrete floor (with permission) in a quiet temple anti-room. After I find somewhere to send this post, I will continue on my shanti (peace) trail.