Mahalakshmi Temple Kolhapur

Too many alleys leading up to too many Maha Dwaars
Too many gods in one temple
Which one am I looking for?
Every year, a new rickshaw-walla
driving an unusually high and unusually noisy auto-rickshaw
drops me to a new door.
I forget the landmarks I had tried to remember the last time.

Climbing down the unaccustomed, ancient stone steps,
I wonder if my reverence would be more concentrated if I wasn’t thinking
about the painful arches of my flat feet.

I pause for a moment, looking for her.
She is sitting on the skirting around the main temple.
As if waiting for me to arrive.
“That way,” she points.
Surely, it isn’t the same woman who directed me the last time?
Or the one before that?
They were both too old to live this long.
But then, the saree palla always covers her dark face,
And I would never really know.
Absent-mindedly, I head in the direction and join a queue.

The young woman in front of me, her mangalsutra still a shiny yellow,
holds an annoyingly pink plastic basket of hurriedly bought flowers
An industrially cut circle of red felt sits stuck to her freshly bathed forehead
A reluctant husband wonders when the post wedding duties will end.

Just ahead of her, clad in a practical synthetic salwar kameez
cut to a pattern at least a decade old,
Is a short, stubby woman, trying hard to concentrate on her chanting
even as she looks above the heads and shoulders of those ahead of her
Calculates. Another four minutes, at most.
With one hand, she pegs down her restless son
and doesn’t realize his nose needs wiping.

Inside, a longer line winds its way along cold steel barricades
dotted with donation boxes.
Temple helpers push you toward your 10 seconds of timed devotion.

A silver doorway suddenly appears
It towers above the black silhouettes in its gaudy ornamentation.
Sandalwood, vermillion, reeking soan-chafa, burning camphor.
Pot bellied, bare breasted priests; no priestesses
claim closeness to her.
A declaration of piousness.

Her black form, enrobed in a fertile green silk saree much too long
Is short and stubby.
Her glaring eyes are not maternal.
I wonder if she feels trapped and bewildered inside.
How will she show me the way?

Or did she, outside, on the skirting around the temple?

*March 31, 2017; on the eve of my sixth visit to Kolhapur. *

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