Our hosted wanted to stop at a temple along the way. Not much marked it, just a small trip off the main road. Several men in lungis stood outside, waiting for us, or anyone, to get out of the car. We parked the car in front of a small path, and the men came with us, ushering us forward as we walked through the trees. Terra cotta horses lined the pathway on each side. Some of the horses were broken, some painted colorfully, some faded, some the red of terracotta.
“The families carry new ones in every year for festival,” our host told us.
We passed a large statue of Shiva’s feet, and continued on until we came to the end of the path, where a tall tree stood surrounded by statues covered in cloth and flowers, small clay oxen, and some unusual clay jars.
“It is for fertility,” our host said, “They leave the jars so that their prayers for children may be answered.
I understand the wishes of those women. I felt a camaraderie with them as, blinking back tears, I silently left my prayers at the sacred, old tree. It felt ancient to me, this simple act that women all over the world have shared in different forms throughout time.
The men, who had followed us down to the temple tree, were talking to our host. “Do you want them to light a candle?” she asked Kevin; the implication was that this would not be free of charge. “Yes,” Kevin said, and I was glad. I wanted to do something special on this site, this place outside the realm of traditional Hindu pilgrimages, this simple and profound spot that had touched my soul.
And so one of the men lit a few small candles on a tray, and then smeared a mark on everyone’s forehead. “Thank you father,” Kevin said, and I was once again looking at the candle man wondering if he was a beggar or a holy man. I knew Kevin would say there was no difference between the two, and while I agreed with him on that deeper level, I was still curious.
A lady had joined the men, and as Kevin handed them money, we began to walk away. There must have been some discrepancy in the distribution of the bills, because they began to argue amongst themselves. “Are they associated with the temple?” I asked our host. “No,” she said, “They just stay here waiting for tourists to come.” “Oh.” I said, realizing we’d once again been given an “unofficial” tour of a temple but enjoying it just the same.