The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Trip to sacred India continues
Gender issues revealed in trip to Pandikoil temple

UTC professors Dr. William Harman, philosophy and religion, and Dr. Elizabeth Gailey, communication, are leading a five week summer study tour in India. The trip is made possible through a generous grant from the University of Chattanooga Foundation, which covers approximately 75% of student costs including travel, lodging, and food.

What follows is a firsthand account of UTC student Janel Watson.

Wednesday June 16, 2004
1:45 pm
Madurai

There are certain barriers that have to be overcome before I can experience the educational enlightenment I want to find here in India. Some are simple and expected like communication, and adjusting to the food, noise, and smells. Yet, the emotional and physical strain of India is hard to explain because Western culture is padded with comfort zones. The first step to understanding Indian culture is learning to deal with it, which I believe is what all of us are trying our best to do. When I realize and handle a barrier I learn about myself and I learn something new about India.

Monday, was a lesson on the difficulties of accomplishing even simple tasks. What was originally to be a venture to run some errands with a friend turned into an entire afternoon-long shopping spree. Madurai is a textile town and a city of pilgrimage, and shops send men onto the streets to seek out consumers. They hop on the sides of our rickshaws and explain in sometimes good, but usually broken English, that their brother/cousin/father/best friend has a great shop just around the corner, meaning across town. They usually tell the rickshaw driver, without our consent, to change the destination, but a visit to one of these over-priced emporiums can be hard to resist as it always guarantees getting something cold to drink.

Tuesday was the kind of day I came here to experience. I met a professor on Monday night from Lady Doak College, a local women’s school. I am focusing my project on gender roles, specifically that of young females in Madurai. The professor gave some insights into the basic issues women my age are struggling with in this highly traditional region of India, which include: socially sanctioned abusive and/or cheating husbands, arranged marriages, gender separation, and limited career options for even the most highly educated women. The professor arranged for a former student of hers to meet me Tuesday morning. Devi (pronounced Davey, meaning goddess) joined a group of us that morning after breakfast for a trip to Pandikoil, a temple on the outskirts of Madurai devoted to Pandi, a male god who originated as a local village deity.

Arriving at the temple, we purchased a basket of offerings to Pandi for 40 rupees (about one U.S. dollar) that included rosewater, a flower garland, bananas and coconut – all items that would be pleasing to the god Pandi.

Immediately after entering the main temple grounds we could hear the screams and wails of women who had become possessed by Pandi. These women are empowered by Pandi to release pent up emotions and energy. For female patrons, Pandi has the ability to control sexual passions and help in the conception of children. Devi explained that some women are considered married to Pandi, and Tuesday and Friday night husbands have to leave their wives alone as it is “Pandi’s night” .

We walked through the area of Pandikoil that consisted of outdoor temples for Pandi and his guards. I found myself distracted by having to watch the ground because we had to go barefoot, a normal practice on holy ground, and I was carefully dodging poop, blood (from animal sacrifices enjoyed by Pandi’s guards), and other unidentifiable matter.

I noticed wooden cradles and torn sleeves from saris hanging from the trees near smaller shrines. The cradles were tokens of gratitude from women who had given birth to children after praying to Pandi, and the fragments of saris, which had rocks tied inside, represented children that women wished to have. This reminded me of the extreme importance placed on a Hindu woman’s ability to conceive offspring – ideally male children.

Children were at Pandikoil receiving their first haircut – a complete shaving of the head. Our interpreter told to us that worshippers come as far as 90 km away to visit this temple and pray or give thanks to Pandi.

I hope this week to return to the Minakshi Temple and also visit the Gandhi Museum. Time will tell though; plans here have a way of changing.