Indian flavour abroad

cultural awakening

It was an uncharacteristically sunny day in Coventry, UK.  Rays of sunlight filtered through the fluffy clouds, shining upon the city on an otherwise chilly day.

It was the best day for a perfect one-day trip — and I chose to go to the Sri Venkateswara Temple, Birmingham.

The day kicked off with a train journey to Birmingham, the second largest city in the UK. The first destination for the day was Chennai Dosa — a restaurant which is a boon to Indian students studying in the UK.

The inviting aroma of ghee melting on dosas was enough to make the customers gorge on their food. Soft, white idlis, golden-crisp dosas, freshly ground coconut chutney and hot, steaming, sambhar disappeared like magic, and before I knew it, I was on my way to the temple.

Right from the time I reached the vicinity of the temple, a peaceful atmosphere settled in, making everyone speak in hushed tones. There was no ‘Please be silent’ board anywhere, but the tranquil surroundings silenced us as we walked past the two huge elephant statues at the entrance.

Snatches of Hindi, Telugu and Tamil conversations drifted past our ears as we entered the unusually quiet sanctum sanctorum. Being used to the buzzing activity inside the temples in India, it was a new experience to pray in such a divine, calm, atmosphere.

The dazzling beauty of the deity made all of us stand spellbound, and prayers started forming in my lips, of their own accord. The magical voice of the Carnatic music maestro, M S Subbalakshmi, sounded through the temple, singing the Venkatesha Suprabatham. Apart from the main deity (Lord Balaji), there were also shrines for Goddess Padmavathi, Anjaneya, Lord Shiva, Shirdi Sai Baba and the navagrahas.

The sound of rushing water caught my attention, and I noticed a stone figure of Lord Ranganatha inside a small, artificial pool of water — probably placed there on the belief that this God resides in his abode under the sea.

People milled around it, snapping photos, as another set of people proceeded to the Anna Daanam (distribution of free food). I followed, had my fill of the food, and headed out of the temple to a small South Indian shop which housed almost all items available in India — right from curry leaves to idli and dosa batter.

The best feature of the temple visit was the fact that Indians abroad are very conscious of our culture and tradition. There was so much happiness on every person’s face, and it was wonderful to see the integrity with which Indians live outside our country.

Most people are under the erroneous notion that living abroad makes people forget their values and traditions. On the contrary, while away from their home countries, people cling on to these with a firmer grip, for the fear of losing them.

The journey back from the temple was one of introspection. To quote Somerset Maugham, “Tradition is a guide and not a jailer”.  It is up to us to absorb the good aspects of our culture.  

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