I don't know what Tamil I am missing

Johanna Mack: Visiting the Angalammans in Tamil Nadu

This article is from an applicant for the Enchanting Travels Travel Scholarship. Every year we award a travel grant to a talented young travel journalist and publish the best submissions. The winner will be determined by voting on our Facebook page.

Visiting the supporters of Angalamman in Tamil Nadu

A hut in the rice field. “Is that all ?!” It's our third week in Tamil Nadu. Since our arrival we have seen numerous temples: mostly pyramid style; often adorned with colorfully painted figures, sometimes with temple ponds, on which statues of gods are driven around in boats on special occasions. We also expect such a temple when our tour guide takes us to a temple festival in the rural area south of the former French-colonized city of Pondicherry. But there is no trace of impressive structures here. Instead: An open shelter in the middle of the fields. The annual festival in honor of Angalamman is to take place here today. Angalamman is a Hindu deity worshiped in some villages in Tamil Nadu. It is not easy to find out which stories people associate with her in this village, but they could go something like this: Angalamman is the wife of an incarnation of Shiva - according to legend, however, he had a child with another woman. In her anger, Angalamman tore the child from the woman. In the month of Maasi (end of March) she is appeased at the Mayana Kollai festival.

The mood around the temple is exuberant. Children run around, adults in festive clothing chat, drum and sing. People prepare for the actual celebrations in a shelter: men put colorful masks on each other's face and body and put on costumes made of fabric, painted wood and plastic. During the festivities, they are supposed to embody the protagonists of the history of the gods. They wave to us laughing; the actors proudly pose in front of the camera and children vie for us to snap them.

A little further away in the field, a goat is being held on a rope and washed. The sun is slowly going down. Now the real festival begins. “Are you sure you want to see this?” Asks our tour guide. “There will be animal sacrifices.” Some of the villagers invite them to chai. But I want to be there, and I don't want to miss the unique chance to experience this spiritual village spectacle to the fullest.

The faithful gather around a painted figure made from heaped earth. We are allowed to face it. Speeches and singing are broadcast over loudspeakers; a priest walks around with a brazier. Then the goat is led to the center. Because of all the people I can't see what's happening, but suddenly the mood changes. The music becomes faster, more haunting, almost hypnotic. Not far from us, a woman collapses and writhes on the ground. "It starts! Come on! ”Calls the tour guide in my ear. She pulls me away from the crowd to the nearest street lamp. The village community forms an alley. With braziers on their heads, singing and dancing, the disguised begin to roam the streets. We walk to the beginning of the procession, under the light, to where we can take good photos. “Look, this one is playing the goddess!” The actor is particularly lavishly costumed and made up. Sweat drips from his forehead. He is supported by two others, because as the embodiment of the bloodthirsty goddess he has to carry the entrails of the killed goat in his mouth. They hang in a bowl of rice soaked in their blood. This aspect of village religion has little in common with the stereotype of vegetarian Hinduism. “Jump on the wall!” The tour guide pulls me with her. From here we have a good view. Some of the actors seem beside themselves. They jump around wildly, scream, eyes wide. It's not scary to me: I know that trance is an important part of the village religion and completely harmless. I perceive everything through the lens of my camera, which takes one photo after the other as if by itself. The move stops at every street corner. There is more intense dancing and singing. Believers kneel down in front of the "goddess" and receive some blood rice as an offering.

Race again. Waiting. Photo. One yells at me; red face, rolling eyes, white, bared teeth. Jump towards us with arms raised. In between, children romp around in plastic superhero masks: they laugh and scream when the gods come near them. At the sight of our camera, people push others to the side and push us forward: "Photo, please!"

Click. A woman faints from her trance; laying on the floor. Others form a circle around them, shield them, and carry them to the temple. The next day everyone will envy her that the goddess drove into her - the procession is now moving towards the cremation site on the edge of the village. Adrenaline is still pounding through my body. The floor is softened here, I notice that one of my flip flops is missing. Anyway - I don't care. Continue with the excited stream of people. At the place of the cremation it bumps up again. A chicken flutters open and a moment later its throat has been cut. Then the spook is over, as suddenly as it began.

The music falls silent. The mood is now relaxed and exuberant. Suddenly the rest of the tour group is around me again. I'm breathing hard, can't tell how much time has passed. I'm still clutching the camera. When some villagers laughingly sit us on a wagon that bears the image of the goddess who is smiling in the background, a single feeling flows through me: gratitude for the hospitality of these people who let us take part in this important part of their culture. In its originality, I will remember this festival more intensely than the magnificent temples in the cities. Once again I am convinced: You cannot get to know India, you can only get to know it.

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