On our final day here in this part of India, we were once again able to venture out of the city into the surrounding towns. Today we had the wonderful opportunity to really explore Indian history and industry.
We drove to Kanchipuram, which took several hours due to the heavy traffic of Chennai. Kanchipuram is famous for two things, temples and the silk industry, and our group explored both. Our first stop was a very large beautiful temple honoring the Hindu god of preservation, Vishnu. When the temple first came into sight it was breath taking. It reminded me of how truly ancient and lasting the cultures and history of India is. There were so many intricate rock carvings, each artfully carved from a single stone. Behind one temple was a large pool of water where a statue of the deity was submerged. Originally this was done to protect the statue, but now it is more of a way to honor the past. Every forty years a great celebration is held and the deity is brought above the surface for a brief time (the next one is in 2019 if you’re looking to make the trip).
After visiting these beautiful works of art, our next stop was a more modern version of Indian art. Kanchipuram is very famous for its silk industry and we were able to learn about this process as well as see hundreds and hundreds of beautiful silk sarees. I felt very welcome here, as I have everywhere we have visited. A man who was working hard weaving silk was happy to take time to stop and demonstrate the process with a smile on his face, despite the fact that it takes weeks to finish his work. I am continually humbled by the kindness of the people in this country.
Along those same lines, we stopped briefly for a wonderful lunch at the church of a Rev. Francis and several members who were so very welcoming and were determined to make sure we ate as much as we could. I am not always sure what the food is here, but I am sure that it is very good and I am thankful for the hands that prepared it.
Our final stop were to visit ancient rock carvings and temples in Mamallapuram. The first carvings are known as the Five Rathas. Rathas are chariots and so these carvings were named because they look like chariots and are dated around 650 AD (again showing how ancient this country is). After a final stroll exploring the shore temples, temples dedicated to Vishnu literally built on the beach of the Bay of Bengal, we headed back to the hotel.
For me this was a very important part of the trip itself. On these long rides we have had time to talk with and learn from each other. Our Indian travel companions ask us about American politics and we do the same about the Indian elections. We talked more in depth about the caste system and how deep the roots go religiously and politically. And of course we told jokes, and we laughed and smiled. To me these are the most important parts of our people to people pilgrimage. Bonding and learning from people who are from what seems like a totally different world and bringing our worlds just a little bit closer together.
The night ended with a final meeting with several members of the Dioces of Madras who joined us for dinner. As we prepare to leave Chennai tomorrow, I cannot give enough thank you to these people who made it possible to have all the different experiences that we had. They are truly doing important and magnificent work in the Church of South India and I am glad I was able to witness it.