12 April, 2021

Sisters Of Mannarkad

In this pocket of Kerala, local myth fuses Goddess Bhagavati and Mother Mary into family

Vivek R. Nair
Sisters Of Mannarkad

On the edge of the jungle lay a small wooden temple. It was late evening, and the sun had already disappeared behind the palms. The light was fading fast now, and the flickering camphor flames and the ranks of hundreds of small clay lamps lined up on the wooden slats of the temple all seemed to be burning brighter and brighter, minute by minute.

The oiled torsos of the temple Brahmins were gleaming too. They were nearly finished with the evening aarti, circling burning splints around the idol of the Goddess Bhagavati, as they rang bells, chanted slokas and blew on conch shells. The ceremony prepared the goddess to sleep, in the prescribed way, and with all the proper ceremonies that she expected, and her attendants busied themselves on what would be their final task of the day.

Only when it was over, and the doors of the inner shrine were sealed for the night, were they able to tell me properly about the goddess they served. Bhagavati, they explained, was the pre-eminent goddess in Kerala, the most powerful and beloved deity in the...

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