The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Journey to India Chapter Five

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V


Dustin Harris & Ryan Powell with their new friends

Dustin Harris & Ryan Powell with their new friends

Meredith Jagger posts India dispatches for NPR

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

Meredith Jagger, a UTC senior who participated in the 2004 Summer-in-India Study Program was selected to post travel dispatches about her India experiences on National Public Radio's "Next Generation Radio" website. Jagger’s insights can be found at the following addresses:

Ryan Powell offers observations of India

Additionally, UTC student Ryan Powell, a UTC Religion and Philosophy Major describes below one of his forays into the world of sannyasins or renouncers, the Hindu men who leave their homes and possessions in search of religious enlightenment.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

I took an auto rickshaw from Madurai to a sleepy place six miles south, a town famous for two things: (1) its massive temple carved into the side of a huge solid granite hill, and (2) for being a place where sannyasins gather to be fed and sheltered. My first meeting with the sannyasins was a little chaotic because there were so many of them on the street near the temple we visited. It was just myself, Dr. Harman, and another student on the trip named Dustin, but even three white faces attract massive attention here, at least in backwater places like this. I spoke with two sannyasins and got a general idea of their lifestyle. I couldn't get much in-depth stuff because we were sort of surrounded by homeless "holy men," and they were all crowding in to answer my questions. “Holy men” is in quotes because legitimate sannyasins are hard to find. To tell the truth, a lot of them are just beggars wearing saffron robes and pretending to pursue spiritual goals. I asked them, through Dr. Harman's translation, what their daily life was like. I got this answer.

  1. wake up
  2. bathe in the temple tank
  3. pray
  4. beg for food/rupees
  5. eat/sleep/smoke ganja (marijuana)
  6. pray more
  7. eat/sleep/smoke ganja/sing

Pretty sweet, huh? I also got to finally go into an inner sanctum of a temple because the big temples only let Hindus in. This temple, way out in the sticks, didn’t much care if we were Hindu or not. We white folks had to pay 10 rupees to get in to this one, but it was worth it. Ten rupees is less than a quarter. I got blessed by an elephant. You hold coins out, and she takes them. Then she gives them to her handler and touches your head with her trunk.

Over all, it was a pretty rockin' day.

Christianity is widespread in southern India – about 7% of the population is Christian. So yesterday I went to a Catholic church for mass. We were expecting a Protestant Pentecostal service, having heard that Indian Pentecostals are supposed to be very involved, very fervent but there was some sort of mix-up. Anyway, there was a child christening afterward and a massive meal, both of which we were invited to attend. Folks were really nice: not a bad experience at all. The parents of the new baby insisted on having the kid's picture taken with the white people (us). I also made friends with an old man who was deaf and mute. It was pretty wild stuff.

After the service, I took a nap and then went to the Meenakshi temple in the center of Madurai. Meenakshi is the primary goddess of Madurai, and she's married to Siva, who I like to call the Rock 'n' Roll god. Her temple is one part circus, one part market and one part cathedral, dating from the 11 th century. I spent a good deal of time in the temple, looking at the shrines. Then I spent some time in the bazaar. I bought a few cool things, then had my palm read. I couldn't understand most of what the guy said, but I did catch that I will live to be 92, my lucky numbers are 1, 4 and 5, and that I am descended from a great king. Oh yeah, and Friday and Tuesday are my lucky days.